You’re the Worst might not be for everyone, but considering its frankly repellent logline—two emotionally crippled L.A. narcissists have a casual fling and find, to their bafflement, that they’re falling for each other—it’s amazing it’s for anyone at all. I remember watching the promos for the FX comedy and grimacing at what looked like a show that delighted too much in its acidic heart. But You’re the Worst isn’t really thumbing its nose with glee at romantic comedies. It’s just found a refreshing approach to the genre.
If you haven’t been watching, it’s time to get to Hulu and catch up. The finale airs tonight at 10:30 on FX, and if the television gods are good and merciful, it will get renewed for a second season; if not (its ratings aren’t fantastic but it’s developed into a critical hit) the finale serves as a pretty perfect capper to the story being told.
You’re the Worst essentially has the same premise as all the rom-com sitcoms going around this fall—there’s no real plot to follow outside of these two falling for each other and navigating the early stages of couplehood. The problem for most other shows (I’m looking at you, A to Z and Manhattan Love Story) is that the lack of any real gimmick means there will have to be all kinds of contrivances thrown in the central couple’s way, just to keep things interesting. When a show thrives on two people being together, it can become unconscionably annoying to watch a show find reasons to keep them apart just so an episode or a season can have an arc to it.
But in You’re the Worst, any progress Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) make together seems like a total miracle. Even more amazingly, their inherent toxicity doesn’t seem like some self-aware contrivance. Yes, the central gag is that these two are so uninterested in a committed relationship, but their motivations and immaturity are perfectly conveyed, mostly through waves of black humor.
Gretchen is a hard-living publicist who primarily works with a rap musician (Brandon Smith) that seems like a combination of all the members of Odd Future (i.e. he’s fully self-aware of the stereotype he embodies while embracing it all the same). Jimmy is a self-hating Brit novelist who enjoys wallowing in his own misery with his roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges), a military washout who cooks and cleans to cover his share of the rent. The funniest joke of all is that they each have giant significant other-sized holes in their life, but obviously are too emotionally damaged to make real progress with anyone they’d ever meet, until they have casual sex with each other at a party.
Over the subsequent episodes, watching Gretchen and Jimmy get closer is like watching two nervous dogs cautiously sniffing at each other; in tonight’s finale, Gretchen compares the two of them to angry pitbulls who can somehow only interact with each other. The audience, of course, knows what’s happening from the get-go, but somehow it doesn’t feel frustrating to watch the two stumble into couplehood against all of their base instincts. Gretchen is more straightforward and bracingly mean (Cash is a firecracker of an actress that Hollywood finally found the right role for) while Jimmy’s Englishness is deployed for wave after wave of sarcastic or dismissive comments.
The show is also surprisingly frank about sex, more so than I would have predicted from the raunchy first episode, which made me think this would be about Jimmy and Gretchen’s sexual connection more than anything else. But the show only leans on that crutch once in a while, quickly acknowledging that what’s interesting about Gretchen and Jimmy’s relationship is that they like to hang out with each other after having sex. That first part is standard operating procedure—but going to brunch is the real miracle.
The first season is pretty tightly focused on Gretchen, Jimmy, Edgar, and Lindsay (Kether Donohue), Gretchen’s friend who is married to a sweet bore who she can’t admit she’s sick of. There’s plenty of fun generated by just those four bouncing off of each other, but hopefully the ensemble can get fleshed out a little in the (hoped-for) second season; the recurring characters around them are a little thinner, including Janet Varney as a high-strung ex of Jimmy’s and a kid who hangs around Jimmy’s apartment for vaguely-defined reasons.
Because there’s always going to be plenty of ground for You’re the Worst to cover, whether the central couple is going strong or nervously navigating some new pitfall that comes with being in love. The show functions as an excellent small-scale satire of early-30s life in L.A.—there’s plenty of easy gags about hipsters and fancy restaurants to be had, and they work all the better from the perspective of our heroes, like a pair of mean aliens happy to loudly complain about whatever’s bothering them. Gretchen and Jimmy never get upset about everything except each other, and even have trouble acknowledging that they’re bothered by that. Maybe that’s what makes You’re the Worst such a refreshing watch—it should be a show about a bunch of people moping around about their confused lives, but it’s almost entirely mope-free.