Two assholes start dating.
This is the entire premise of FX’s new single-camera sitcom You’re the Worst, and if judged by that summary alone, its title might have been bait for many a caustic review headline. But any comments about this show being “the Worst” would be completely and delightfully wrong. Against all apparent odds, You’re the Worst is a genuinely charming, funny show which manages to showcase two very bitter characters without ever descending into bitterness itself.
The “Sitcom About Assholes” genre was invented with Seinfeld, and is succeeded most notably with another FX child, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The rule has always been comedy above all: if it’s funny, we’ll love it, no matter how disgusting or obnoxious its characters are. These are the shows that delight in the taboo, the sacrilege, the unabashed horror that we can’t get away with anywhere else. You’re the Worst indulges here too: jokes about abortion, racism, and anal sex are delivered with rapid-fire glee. And for the most part the dialogue is very, very funny. Once in a while a note strikes a bit too sour, but with only three episodes under his belt so far, creator and writer Stephen Falk doesn’t disappoint with consistent, laugh-out-loud shock-bait.
Our two assholes are Jimmy (Chris Geere), a self-absorbed writer and miserable wretch, and Gretchen (Aya Cash), an aggressive celebrity publicist with a diabolical mean streak. Although our lead-in to the series is Jimmy, his role as protagonist is definitely shared 50-50 with Gretchen, and neither lacks for funny lines or power plays. In fact, this might be the most evenly balanced male-female couple in recent sitcom history. They meet at the wedding of Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend, while Gretchen is a friend of the bride’s sister, “Fat” Lindsay (Kether Donahue). Unsurprisingly, the world’s worst wedding guests (he uses up all the disposable cameras taking pictures of his junk; she steals wedding gifts in hopes of snagging a free food processor) take each other to bed.
Thankfully, the show doesn’t spend too much time in overplayed sitcom “this is just sex, we’re not relationship people, we’re just using each other” territory. It’s clear from the get-go that Jimmy and Gretchen really do like each other, and are surprised to find that they both want a relationship beyond just sex, if not a particularly well-defined one. This is where You’re the Worst finds its strength, and where it separates itself from the pack: Jimmy and Gretchen may be the “worst,” but they’re not detestable. In fact, they’re both shockingly likable considering the radioactive garbage they spew out of their mouths, and it’s not long before we see the cracks in their callous facades. Their genuine, almost bashful romantic interest in each other betrays sensitivity that’s been deeply buried by past dating failures. Jimmy can hardly sit in the same room as his former girlfriend, while Gretchen is hung up on a jerk who makes Jimmy look like Mother Teresa. In this light, they become not only likable, but thoroughly relatable. Jimmy and Gretchen are really the everyman-and-woman of the cynical internet age.
The leads are buoyed by some truly hysterical supporting characters, most notably Edgar (Desmin Borges), Jimmy’s freeloading idiot savant roommate. Borges manages to combines all the tropes of a dopey Eeyore, a college weed dealer, a PTSD-suffering vet, and a loving mama bear into one enigmatically hilarious character who improves every scene he’s in. Kether Donahue’s Lindsay hasn’t been given much to do other than make snarky comments with Gretchen, but she’s a fun screen presence. Gretchen’s job as a publicist means we’re treated to a parade of parodical fake celebrities, especially Brandon Smith’s Sam Dresden, whose profession remains unclear but who delivers a closing line in episode three that is so funny and so profane I can’t be asked to repeat it here. There’s also Killian (Shane Francis Smith), Jimmy’s ten-year-old neighbor who promises his own About A Boy subplot, and any similarities to that show are only positive in my book.
Gretchen and Jimmy are always self-congratulatory, but the scripts never are. There are no Dr. Cox-ian masturbatory hate monologues here, at least not without acknowledgment. When, after their initial “one-night stand,” Gretchen hits Jimmy with a spiteful takedown, he responds with admiration, giving her wit due credit. “It was funny, true, and mean,” he shrugs, “my favorite kind.” This seems to be the general mantra of the writers’ room–funny, true, and mean–and You’re the Worst does a bang-up job of balancing all three. And, perhaps most impressive of all, the show is actually pretty romantic, too. Between all the snarking and bitching, small gestures can convey big emotions, and between Gretchen and Jimmy, small gestures are all that’s needed to suck themselves and the audience into a a real, uncynical love story.
Asking an audience to follow a series about two out-and-out jerks isn’t a simple request, but You’re the Worst doesn’t waste much time pandering to its audience at all. Like its lead characters, it’s got a distinct voice and attitude, and it’s not going to wait around for you to decide how you feel about it first. Stephen Falk seems to have a clear vision of where the show is going, and it is a refreshing feeling to trust that you’re getting into something good. You’re the Worst definitely feels good.
You’re the Worst airs Thursday nights at 10:30 on FX.