[A version of this review appears in the Sept. 24, 2015, edition of the Rutland Reader.]
After years of creative fallowness, the romantic comedy is finally enjoying a resurgence in the hands of a new generation of filmmakers and showrunners who have jettisoned the form’s treacly tropes for a harder edge and a sharper wit. Films like Obvious Child, and TV series like Catastrophe and Married, go for smart laughs and real emotions as they build a better rom-com.
You’re the Worst, which just kicked off its second season on FX, also falls squarely into this non-rom-com category. Acerbic, dark, and at times raunchy, the series, created by Stephen Falk, manages to strike a balance between cynicism and charm that makes it one of most brutal depictions of modern love currently on television.
The series follows Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), two self-absorbed and self-destructive late-20-early-30-somethings living in Los Angeles, who meet at a mutual friend’s wedding and ambivalently attempt dating after a drunken hookup.
Desmin Borges and Kether Donohue round out the cast as Edgar and Lindsay, Jimmy and Gretchen’s respective best friends. Edgar is a sensitive veteran with PTSD, who serves as the series’ heart and soul. He roots for Jimmy and Gretchen as he futilely pushes both to be better people.
Lindsay, meanwhile, is Gretchen’s wild sidekick, who married for money and has regretted it ever since. She often plays the devil on Gretchen’s shoulder, urging her to stay single and fight off settling down so she can live vicariously through her.
Both Borges and Donohue excel as second bananas, doing more than setting up jokes and dispensing advice. These are likable and round characters that add to the overall humor of warm chemistry of the show.
Throughout the first season, Jimmy and Gretchen refuse to admit their affection for each other, preferring to keep things physical despite an obvious emotional connection neither one knows how to process or articulate. That fear of intimacy comically manifests itself as both characters attempt to sabotage the relationship. For example, a dare to sleep with a famous celebrity exposes feelings of jealousy and leads to a competition to see who can sleep with more people until both reluctantly admit they are OK with monogamy.
What elevates You’re the Worst above other rom-coms is its resistance to the familiar contrivances of the form. Happily ever after is not a given here. In last season’s finale, Jimmy and Gretchen unexpectedly decide to move in together after a fire destroys Gretchen’s apartment. In other sitcom universes, this would be a sweet capper on a season spent pushing these two closer and closer together. Here, it’s treated as a defeat at the hands of traditional coupledom. The restrained terror on both characters’ faces in the episode’s final shot leaves the series on a note of satisfying uncertainty.
Season two opens with Jimmy and Gretchen doing everything in their power to stave off the doldrums of domesticity. For them, a quiet night in watching Netflix or reading before bed is tantamount to death. The solution has been to party like the world is ending. That endless cycle of sex, drugs and booze, however, has taken its toll. By episode’s end, both admit the lifestyle is killing them, but the show withholds resolution as they hop out of bed to belly up at the bar down the street for a round of shots.
You’re the Worst succeeds largely due to the great chemistry between Geere and Cash. A less likeable couple would make the show’s acerbic tone unbearable. However, these two sell it as they trade barbs, wallow in self-loathing, and share in their mutual dislike of the rest of the world.
Despite the dark tone, the show has a lightness and charm that makes it a delight to watch. For hopeless romantics, this show might be a bitter pill. But for fans of sharp, slightly prickly comedies You’re the Worst is a perfect match.
CHECK IT OUT: You’re the Worst airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. on FX. Catch up on season one on Hulu.