The Nuanced Tragicomedy of You're the Worst

This season, the FXX show has broken with sitcom formula to explore how depression can affect relationships.


Relationship sitcoms as a subgenre usually stick to a limited number of formulaic storylines—something that You’re the Worst has dodged again and again. Midway through its stellar second season on FXX, when Gretchen (Aya Cash) started sneaking out in the middle of the night without telling her live-in boyfriend Jimmy (Chris Geere) where she was going, the implication that she was cheating seemed clear. But when Jimmy finally caught on, he tailed her and found her not with another guy, but sitting alone in her car, crying—a symptom of her clinical depression, which she confessed was beginning to surface again. It was an audacious twist, but one the show had carefully built toward, and has sensitively explored in the following weeks.

You’re the Worst’s first season was a surprising hit—pitched as an acidic sex comedy about the union of two narcissists, it immediately felt more than the sum of its parts by having such a firm grasp on its central pair, their fear of growing up, and what it means to embark on a serious relationship. In the second season, its creator, Stephen Falk, could have turned to the kind of stories that have waylaid classic sitcom couples like Ross and Rachel or Jess and Nick—jealousy over exes, or meddling parents—but has instead burrowed deeper into what makes his lovably unlovable pair so self-destructive in the first place. Gretchen insists to Jimmy that he can’t cure her depression and that he can only help her weather the storm, but Jimmy pledges to try anyway. It’s painful to watch, but the way You’re the Worst remains true to his and Gretchen’s characters, shunning the devices of typical relationship sitcoms, is its greatest strength.

Equally as impressive is how the show has managed to be funny through these darker moments. As even the most popular sitcoms have found, sustaining a relationship on TV is tricky because of the inherent lack of conflict that comes with a stable couple. Which is why shows often invent implausible scenarios of temptation, or out-of-nowhere pregnancies, or why they quickly break up couples only to reunite them again. But Gretchen’s depression feels like a real-world problem rather than a TV problem. She makes it clear to Jimmy that there’s nothing to be done about it, and all she needs is support, but part of Jimmy’s humorous appeal is his overinflated ego and the hero complex that comes with it.

Last week’s episode was a rehash of “Sunday Funday,” a season-one favorite in which Gretchen, Jimmy, and their friends tore through a wild Sunday brunch adventure in Los Angeles. This time, the stakes were higher and it was Halloween-themed, as Jimmy tried to give Gretchen the scary night of her life to shake her out of her reverie—but once she realized his intent, the plan backfired. Jimmy’s unsubtle efforts are as sweet as they are hopeless, and a testament to the tragicomic balance You’re the Worst strikes better than any other show currently on air: Viewers know he’s doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, yet they can’t help but root for him anyway.

The show’s first season ran at breakneck speed, charting the progress of Gretchen and Jimmy’s relationship from a drunken one-night-stand to co-habitation. Falk has since wisely slowed things down, with one episode taking place during a mundane trip to the mall (where Gretchen tries to buy things she believes most adults should own), and another unfolding entirely in the couple’s house when they’re boxed inside by L.A. marathon runners. Wednesday’s new episode focuses on a slightly older married couple who live across the street. They’re faded hipsters who constantly reference the music and TV of the mid-aughts while tending to a fussy kid and fussier pug, and Gretchen becomes transfixed by their outward happiness and tries to mimic it herself, with mixed results.

If the first season was about arrested development—Jimmy and Gretchen are both adult-children trying to do whatever they want even as they enter their mid-30s—this season has been about the brutal flip-side of those choices. Jimmy, a published author struggling to write a follow-up, fancies himself a raconteur but does all his “work” at the local bar. Gretchen, a flippant but self-possessed slob, has always seemed like she’s running from something that’s finally caught up with her this season. You’re the Worst slots firmly into the developing “sadcom” genre, a group that includes Netflix’s Hollywood satire BoJack Horseman (also praised for its handling of depression), Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s acidic sci-fi comedy Rick and Morty, and the brutally funny mockumentary series Review.

But while shows like Rick and Morty and Review have outlandish plots revolving around murder and mayhem, You’re the Worst is terrifyingly real. Its biggest villain is the fear of growing up, its scariest ailment is a chemical imbalance, and the stakes all ride on one rocky relationship. It’s a union that’s looked disastrous from the start—but that’s been all the more compelling for its refusal to be disastrous in the typical ways. It’s the kind of thoughtful, unexpected deviation other romantic sitcoms should learn from.