I’m not in the habit of rewatching TV shows all too often. Every now and then there’s a project, like when my wife hadn’t seen Buffy so we did that and Angel in intermingling order, but there are few shows I’ve just put on from start to finish again and again. Looking back, the list consists of: Battlestar Galactica, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. There are ones I’ve revisited after a long break but these few are the few that come to mind when I just want a show to jump back into again and again.
I’ve watched the first season of You’re the Worst three times, straight through.
That’s because whenever I get a friend hooked on it I watch through with them. This show is about Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash). They are two self-destructive people in their early thirties who are successful enough that money is a problem, but a problem of leisure and not need (he’s a novelist, she’s a publicist). They’re callous, self-absorbed, and generally just assholes. They don’t go out of their way to hurt people, but they can see when they do and just don’t care. And then they sleep together.
There’s a pretty graphic sex scene, for cable, where they criticize each other while completely enjoying themselves, and that perfectly sets the tone for their relationship. While neither is looking for a long-term partner (both are actually avoiding such an arrangement), they realize that they both care so little about anyone else that they’re probably the best bet for an easy and enjoyable regular lay.
What ensues is a series of episodes in which, despite their natures, feelings of jealousy, comfort, and even enjoyment, get in the way of their agreement. What’s great is that it’s constant conflict rather than complacency that drives them. They don’t end up getting serious because it’s easy for them but because it bothers them too much not to. In one episode Jimmy sleeps with someone else. Gretchen, responding to jealousy that she won’t admit to, then takes it upon herself to sleep with someone as well in order to even it out. This escalates into a formal point based competition. The result is that they are eventually forced to admit that it is in fact jealousy and not fairness that is driving them and they take yet another formal step in their relationship. The dark twist is that we’re treated to a montage of all the broken people they’ve left in their wake.
That’s the kind of romantic comedy this is. Almost all stories about people getting together hinge on a trait like stubbornness, or inconvenient situations hindering a partnership. With Jimmy and Gretchen, it’s themselves who are pushing apart. It’s clear that they are better people together, and it’s actually their situation driving against their personalities that puts them together. You’re the Worst is an anti-rom-com in that sense.
As the show goes on, the side characters, who start out as caricatures, begin to show complicated facets. There’s Becca (Janet Varney) and Lindsey (Kether Donohue) as competing sisters who race toward all of life’s milestones, kicking everyone else out-of-the-way as they go. There’s Sam (Brandon Mychal Smith), Shitstain (Darrell Britt-Gibson), and Honey Nutz (Darrell Britt-Gibson), Gretchen’s clients, who essentially act as the Greek chorus with punchlines of insight. Best of all is Edgar (Desmin Borges) who plays the most pained and openhearted character on the show. He’s a veteran who uses heroin to cope with civilian life. If you are rooting for anyone to win at life in this show it will be Edgar, who is the only character that is not competing for the title role. In a show where the only progress is made despite best efforts, and usually only in an attempt to one-up each other, Edgar is the sole character who seems to be able to inspire people to become better on purpose.The writers were smart to A) put in a genuinely kind character and B) use him to highlight everyone else’s awfulness. And it will break your heart to watch him struggle.
The focus of the show also develops in the 10 episodes we get in season one. Since Jimmy and Gretchen stay together it goes from a terrible dating show to a terrible relationship show. But we get more from the side characters as they are exposed, too. Linsdey and Becca’s marriages become grotesque examples of how immature and devastating a race to maturity can be when not earned. By the end of the 10 episode run so far it’s fair to say that the “mature” people are notably more destructive and selfish, but are getting away with it as they are living according to a more accepted life-script.
Season two as a completely different creature, but just as well written and surprising in its turns. The A story is Gretchen dealing with depression. Now that Jimmy is actually cognizant of trying to be a better person his obstacle shifts from self-destruction to a misguided concept of what “help” is for Gretchen. Gretchen’s depression is not so much an obstacle in the way as simply the place she knows she’s going to be for a while. The conflict becomes Jimmy’s efforts coming up against something that Gretchen has accepted she needs to suffer through. It’s a mature and realistic view of her mental disorder.
Edgar gets a storyline with similar shades, detailing how his friendships carry him through life on a day-to-day basis, but may be hindering his ability to make progress with his PTSD. Lindsay devolves into madness and Becca’s life gets pushed to the side in terms of screen time, but that’s because Gretchen’s life gets the proper amount of attention. It’s still a funny season, but it’s intense. The darkness goes from humorous to a bit malevolent. It’s a sinister cloud that reflects the intensity of Gretchen’s condition, always casting a shadow over her even when it’s not at the forefront of the scene.
If that all sounds like a lot of heavy shit for a comedy to deal with, it is. You’re the Worst has more sincere discussions about depression than most dramas. And yet it still manages to retain the humor. It could easily have jumped into either a cartoonish parody of mental illness or a dour portrayal that would be painful to watch. Rather than those, the show takes the sharp edge developed in the first season and uses that stylistic knife to surgically carve out an honest piece of storytelling. The show’s creator, Stephen Falk, has said that he’s “sort of trying hard not to top …[season two] in terms of some issue”, which is nice as that means the show will have an ebb and flow from season to season and not just push harder and darker as it goes on.
And that is why you should already be watching You’re the Worst.