Though the characters and plot details vary, romantic comedies all tend to promise the same thing: a happy ending. But to Jimmy and Gretchen, the central couple in the rom-com series You’re the Worst, a happy ending might as well be a nightmare. In the show’s second season premiere, which aired on FXX Wednesday, the pair take their courtship to the next level by moving in together. It’s a typical landmark in a serious relationship, but Jimmy and Gretchen are instead horrified by the maturity this represents. They immediately dive into every misadventure they can think of, accepting pills from strangers in bars, waking up together covered in garbage—anything but admit they just want to spend a quiet night in. Which is part of what sets You’re the Worst apart from many other romantic comedies: It plays with the existential horror couples might feel when faced with the prospect of a boring, grown-up life.
But what makes the show special is that it looks at this anxiety surrounding commitment and romantic love from both sides—not just from Jimmy’s perspective, or Gretchen’s. When Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out 10 years ago, it spawned a wave of romantic comedies about man-children struggling to define adulthood in the 21st century. This year, Apatow’s Trainwreck tried to do the same from a female perspective, telling the tale of a proudly promiscuous, hard-partying 30-something played by Amy Schumer who meets a sweetheart sports doctor played by Bill Hader. Rom-coms like these often end up feeling faintly like a lecture, with one character having a come-to-Jesus moment over the necessity of growing up. The brilliance of You’re the Worst, then, is that it follows two uninhibited souls grappling with the realization that they might prefer monogamy—without declaring one more enlightened than the other.
In the show, Jimmy (Chris Geere) is an acrid English novelist living in Los Angeles who lives to insult anyone he doesn’t think is as smart as him (i.e. everyone). After a one-night stand with a happily uncommitted publicist, Gretchen (Aya Cash), the two find they don’t want to stop seeing each other. Throughout the first season, they make the kinds of decisions that would implode a regular rom-com courtship, like sleeping with former partners in a bit of competitive one-upmanship, before deciding to become exclusive. Signs that would usually indicate progress, like Jimmy meeting Gretchen’s stiff parents, instead almost derail the entire relationship, since the couple is so afraid to admit that they care about one other.
And yet the show resists making the conventional claim that there’s one right way to make love work—that compromise and communication, honesty and trust are the keys to a blissful union. Instead, Jimmy and Gretchen’s many flaws are laid bare, as are the neuroses and misbehaviors of the show’s supporting cast, from Gretchen’s best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue), whose marriage is in the process of crumbling, to Jimmy’s roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges), a traumatized, open-hearted military veteran.
The show’s creator, Stephen Falk, who started out writing for dark comedies created by Jenji Kohan (Weeds and Orange Is the New Black), shares his mentor’s penchant for the intricate plotting more typical of dramas. You’re the Worst is no Game of Thrones, but its first season set up an impressive universe of interconnected characters, considering it’s a show about insipid L.A.-dwellers who barely work. Its second season promises to follow the same path, laying the groundwork for a similarly problematic relationship between Lindsay and Edgar, while thriving on the ongoing tension that Gretchen and Jimmy’s fear of commitment could lead to a breakup.
As with any good romantic comedy, you’re still rooting for the main couple. But You’re the Worst sympathizes with the creeping dread that comes with the realization that, as a relationship puts down stronger roots, there’s less and less to look forward to in life.
Though Trainwreck was by turns funny and sweet, it drew waves of criticism for its supposed traditionalism. It’s likely Apatow and Schumer only intended to follow a character’s specific journey, but Amy’s eventual embrace of monogamy raised eyebrows among many critics who called her transformation “insidious” and “a little too conservative.” The issue was that Schumer’s character started dating such an endearingly square, kind, and forgiving man, that she had no real choice about staying with him—if she ended their relationship, she’d instantly look like the villain of the story, not like an individual doing what was right for her.
You’re the Worst abandons these preachy narratives of how relationships should be, while finding laughs in the powerful, real fears many people have about traditional dating. Gretchen and Jimmy are torn between two seemingly hopeless options—between partying hard and sleeping around, and settling down—but somehow Falk finds endless laughs in that tense battle every week. Season two promises emotional progress for the pair, whether they like it or not, but more importantly, it still keeps audiences guessing about whether or not there’ll be a happy ending. And if not, it wouldn’t be the worst.