Since I know these aren’t the most popular shows (though they should be), I’m going to keep this relatively spoiler-free.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend & You’re The Worst. I often these two shows crop up in lists of TV with complicated women in them but ,oddly enough, I rarely see them discussed on their own. Which is a shame because, despite their questionable titles, they are amazing TV shows. Funny enough, it’s both their titles that held me off from watching them until well into each show’s first season when the reviews started coming out. But now four and five years on, each of these has come to an end as of last week. And, thanks to an amazing cast and crew, each show has managed to nail their narrative landing, ending with emotionally fulfilling finales.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s premise starts out as relatively simple and campy. Rebecca Bunch, after a chance encounter with a childhood boyfriend, drops everything in her successful life to follow him across the country to find happiness. And it’s a musical. But the show quickly starts to pick apart the romantic comedy tropes. Actions that should be cute and endearing turn out to be dangerous. Things that should make her happy, well, don’t. The trajectory of the show, and how it leans into more and more complex concepts, are actually pretty well illustrated in the show’s various opening themes, which change each season.
Season one is goofy (and animated), setting up the basic premise. But even inside this simple explanation it still draws attention to the sexist term that is the title, as well as Rebecca’s discomfort at the role she’s been cast in in her life. Season two embraces the musical theater camp as well as the term crazy as a synonym for love. And while it’s still silly, she has a bit of a disconnect with reality. Season three is a disjointed medley, both in style and content. There are pop, hip-hop, country, and rock styles, but the lyrics argue over whether to embrace or reject the label “crazy”. Season four has the most sit-com sound to it, but the narration constantly bumps up against Rebecca’s complexity, ultimately giving up and trying to show the audience a completely different person, in hopes that it’ll just be simpler.
Which is the exact trajectory of the show. And while the show’s story is kind of messy, it’s that awareness of it that is probably how Rachel Bloom, the star and co-creator, managed to wrangle it into a cohesive finale. Shows that are about who will end up together, who will the main character pick, will the or won’t they, those all often falter after that choice is made. But they can also drag everything out for far too long. So the fact that this show managed to bring Josh Chan, the catalyst for the show in season one, back as a romantic option in the last season is a testament to how much the characters’ growth means compared to simply finding out the answer. I won’t give away who she ends up with, but the best part is she at least manages to find out what choice will finally make her happy. And for a show dealing with depression, among other mental illnesses, that is a huge deal.
You’re the Worst is a bit harder to pin down. The premise doesn’t sound all that appealing:
Two people, who are pretty terrible, end up in a relationship together despite their best intentions.
Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) are terrible people, and the show is not really about a redemption arc. As the cast fleshes out we meet more people in their lives. And all of them seem to be pretty awful as well. Except for Edgar Quintero (Desmin Borges) who is a a cinnamon roll (too good for this world, too pure). For a short moment the show even seems to play with the concept of a twist: what if it isn’t Jimmy and Gretchen who are “the worst”? What if it’s Paul (Allan McLeod) and Lindsay (Kether Donohue), the ultimate mismatched odd couple? Or Becca (Janet Varney) and Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson), two successful people who seem to have all the standard trappings of success? Okay, I know I said this would be mostly spoiler-free, but the answer is absolutely Becca and Vernon. They are the absolute worst.
But the show is never really about that twist either. It uses what could have been funny and humiliating reveals to slowly deepen the characters. Over the course of 5 season (and a jump from Fox’s weird neighbor, FX, to FX’s weird neighbor, FXX) we learn how all of these people (dis)function in their daily lives. What’s truly impressive is that their actions have consequences. Perhaps not nearly as many consequences as they should in the real world, but things to come back around to these people. But even more fascinating that that is why these people do these things, despite the consequences.
Neither Gretchen nor Jimmy are particularly well adjusted people, and there are reasons for that. For Jimmy its a matching luggage set of emotional baggage due to his family, and his own hang-ups regarding class. For Gretchen it’s much simpler, but also more complicated: depression. The show lets Gretchen spend an entire season trying to avoid revealing her depression, all as she sinks deeper and deeper into it. And after she does surface, she still has depression. It’s always there, it’s always affecting her in some way, and it’s never cured.
Not even in the finale. There’s something of a twist in the last season, and it’s revealed though flash forwards to the main characters at some point in the not too distant future. So it sets up a reveal and then the show toys with how they got there for the final season. It’s daring, as it could easily have taken the focus off of the plot we’ve been following for four seasons just to have us wonder about this mysterious future. It works, though. It adds tension to what would normally be funny, romantic, or awkward scenes. There’s a silent accounting of how important their actions are. Jimmy and Gretchen make enormous fuck-ups throughout the show and the final season calls into question how far they can go and still forgive each other. That understanding of their limits as both individuals and as a couple is what the show has been building on for its entire run, and what the finale delivers on.
Series finales can be tricky things, even under the best of circumstances for production. There are numerous instances of shows getting cut short and being unable to bring closure to both plot and character arcs. There are also shows that get destroyed by their own success, passing the point at which their ideas have run their course, and stay on air when the show has little left to tell. These two shows managed to end when they should have ended, in ways that they deserved. This is a rare thing, but for it to happen to such complex shows is even rarer.
If you have not watched either of these, I urge you to. I promise you both shows are smart and funny and have important things to say. Even better, I can promise you that the endings will be just as fulfilling as the rest of the episodes you’ll find yourself loving