FX's 'You're the Worst' is secretly the best

(Image courtesy of FX Networks) (Image courtesy of FX Networks)

On Sept. 30, FX made an announcement that was a delightful surprise for the small but passionate group who cared. Thanks to a strong critical reception and a need to fill airtime on sister network FXX, "You're the Worst" was picked up for a second season despite meager ratings during its run last summer.

This is very welcome news for a multitude of reasons. The show's fantastic ensemble, headlined by Chris Geere and Aya Cash, will continue working on a project that fully utilizes its talent. Stephen Falk, best known for his work behind the scenes on "Weeds" and "Orange Is the New Black," will get to blossom as one of television's most exciting new showrunners.

More importantly, this means all the people who neglect to watch great shows while they air only to discover them long after they are gone get another chance to redeem themselves. "You're the Worst" is a program that has earned the distinction of being something truly special, even during this so-called "television golden age" that anoints several shows a year into the pantheon of greats.

It is understandable why so many did not get on board right away. This is a smart, hip piece of work for smart, hip pieces of work, not exactly the demographic to be watching basic cable at 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday. "You're the Worst" is the kind of show that could have easily become a cultural phenomenon had it streamed all at once on Netflix. Not only is it scathingly funny from the very first minutes of the pilot to the last scene of the finale, it is compulsively watchable and uncomfortably relatable.

"You're the Worst" follows the romantic exploits of Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), two toxic narcissists who spread their bile across Los Angeles with great aplomb while trying to cope with the fact that they might actually care about another person. Their "sidekicks" (the show literally refers to them as such) are Edgar (Desmin Borges), a mentally scarred war veteran, and Lindsay (Kether Donahue), a domesticated wild child who has trouble maintaining a white picket fence while blackout drunk.

As each episode goes through the motions of increasingly bonkers scenarios, every moment seems intricately crafted to develop these characters. Jimmy, the hotshot writer whose career is cresting as fast as it rose, cannot help but to give people reasons to dislike him out of a Pavlovian fear they will dislike him anyway. Gretchen, a celebrity publicist who maintains a carefully curated reputation as a posh HBIC, secretly cannot function in any aspect of adult life. She appears physically fit while maintaining a diet of gas station hot dogs and hard liquor. There are more eviction notices on her door than items in her fridge.

Even the supporting characters are developed more honestly and in greater depth than most of the strong leads in other shows. Edgar, Jimmy's roommate and glorified babysitter, is afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder. A lesser show would either not dare to make a joke about this character trait or would handle it grossly. "You're the Worst" does not try to toe the line with this material, depicting his condition with candor and sensitivity while exploring the absurdity of life after combat.

The advertisements for the show, which aired incessantly during the spring and early summer, did not represent the show as it is. Emphasizing its subversiveness, and boy is this show subversive, the show came off as mean and crass. Perhaps this is why audience sampling of the show was so low from the very beginning; people were not interested in what FX appeared to be selling. Luckily, the show is not about putting the "mean" back in "meaningless sex," as the ads boldly claimed. It is so much more.

To say "You're the Worst" is an "anti-romantic comedy" is not necessarily inaccurate, but it is misleading. At its core, the show is about people who not only need to be loved but have so much love to give and are painfully unaware of what to do with both these feelings.

There is no pretense that Jimmy or Gretchen or the people who associate with their chaos are "good people" deep down; that would be unrealistic. The fundamental truth is that some people, okay, most, are not perfect. Many, like the protagonists here, do not even bother to try. Real life is not made up of absolutes; entertainment only deals in them, because it is a tough racket to depict the endless labyrinth of humanity in 22-minute increments.

The entire first season of "You're the Worst" is currently available for streaming on FXNOW and Hulu Plus. Go forth.

 

You may reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachheltzel.

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