This summer has been surprisingly packed with rewarding entertainment options—Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters; The Knick and exquisite second seasons of Orange Is the New Black, Masters of Sex, Rectify and The Bridge on TV—but Hollywood’s well has finally run dry as we stagger into the dog days of summer. With networks and studios off-loading their worst titles this month—including The Expendables 3, The Giver, and the wretched abomination that is Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence’s Partners— it’s tempting to unplug from pop culture entirely until after Labor Day.
But there’s a refuge from all of the end-of-summer dreck: It’s the perfect opportunity to discover an unjustly overlooked show that by all early indications should have been relegated to the August dumping ground, but instead has emerged as the best, and most surprising, new series of the summer: You’re the Worst.
When it debuted last month, You’re the Worst (which airs Thursdays on FX at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT) seemed like almost an afterthought, a timeslot-filler after FX’s higher-profile comedy premiere, the disjointed Married. Its concept—one hideous human being (Jimmy Shive-Overly, a British novelist whose first book was a minor splash and is struggling with a follow-up) hooks up with another (music publicist Gretchen Cutler)—is one giant red flag. It seemed like a retread of ABC’s vile Mixology, which dared to ask the question: Are you such a glutton for punishment that you would watch 10 odious caricatures hang out at a bar and try to hook up, in real time? (And if your answer to that was yes, go ahead and set your DVR for Manhattan Love Story, which will air this fall on, yep, ABC. It’s exactly what you deserve.)
Yet here’s the unexpected thing about You’re the Worst: While Jimmy (played by Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) are both, yes, the worst—I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with either of them in real life—they also happen to be the most perfectly matched couple on television. There’s none of the usual forced chemistry, where a show pairs up its main characters regardless of whether it makes sense or not. These two click in every sense of the word—sexually, emotionally, comically—and it’s obvious that they need to be together, in part because no one else on the planet deserves to be subjected to either of them.
In the premiere, they meet not-cute at the wedding of Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend—he’s tossed out of the reception after fighting with the bride, who calls him “ugly and unpleasant”; she bails out of boredom, stealing a wedding gift along the way—and despite the awful things they’ve heard about each other, they decide to go home together, opening up to one another in between various graphic-for-basic-cable sex acts (“and that’s how I got crabs from my guidance counselor,” she concludes one story). Yet the next morning, it’s clear there’s a real connection there, even though neither of them want anything to do with an actual relationship. They warily plow ahead, because as Gretchen reasons, “If you both know that it can’t work, then there’s no harm, right?”
In many ways, my relationship with the show parallels that of Jimmy and Gretchen’s: It began as a one-night stand that seems like a truly awful idea but stunningly turns out to be extraordinary. Then, defying all logic, it somehow blossomed into an amazing, fruitful romance.
The show grows ever more confident each week. As Jimmy and Gretchen grapple with their relationship, their conflicts seem authentic and not contrived: over his reaction when she informs him that she has her period, or over her request for a key to his house. These are exactly the kinds of things they would fight about, and because they both know that they should end up together but are so terrified of that possibility, they’re always just a moment away from sabotaging the whole thing.
While most shows would slowly, subtly sand down Jimmy and Gretchen’s rough edges—building to something akin to Jack Nicholson’s “You make me want to be a better man!” pronouncement in As Good as It Gets—You’re the Worst has no interest in such nonsense. Each week, we’re reminded anew that they are “poison people” (in the words of that still-bitter bride), toxic to everyone around them. There’s no danger of them bringing out the best in each other; if anything, they encourage their worst impulses, which include stealing cats, helping themselves to clothes at an open house, and boisterously bonding over Chinese takeout while sitting in a packed movie theater. After decades of too-cute, formulaic romantic comedy pairings in movies and TV, their behavior seems downright revolutionary.
Even their two sidekicks avoid the usual best friend/roommate clichés. As Edgar, Jimmy’s old college pot dealer who is coping with PTSD after a couple tours in Iraq, Desmin Borges is fascinating, coming off both unhinged and hilarious (as when he casually mentions that he’s begun waking up to find a knife clutched in his hand). It’s mostly played for laughs now, but there’s an ominous undercurrent that is going to need to be dealt with at some point. Gretchen’s BFF Lindsay (Kether Donohue) is unhappily married to a banker (who is even more of a doormat spouse than Doug from Flight of the Conchords) and is slowly reverting to her carefree days at Gretchen’s side. She’s also full of bizarre, droll proclamations like, “Whatever, history. You happened already. Let it go!”
It’s masterful work from creator Stephen Falk, who cut his teeth making unsympathetic characters relatable on shows like Weeds and Orange Is the New Black. His added flourishes are sublime, like how both Gretchen and Jimmy reflexively grab/steal bottles of alcohol before exiting any room. And he’s never afraid to double down on the raunch (the title of tonight’s episode, “PTSD,” doesn’t stand for what you think it does) without seeming overly gratuitous.
In just a few episodes, he’s already turned the quartet into the funniest group of TV pals since Happy Endings (yes, you heard me correctly). Last week’s episode, “Sunday Funday”—featuring a boozy brunch/afternoon adventure, which turns into a war with a group of hipsters that seem to be following them around the city—proves that the show can thrive on much more than just relationship beats. Falk is also mining just the right amount of comedic material from Gretchen’s interactions with her musician clients (and unlike most romantic comedy females, she’s terrific at her job).
You’re the Worst is also helped immensely by the fact that its four lead actors are pretty much unknowns, which means they aren’t bringing any baggage to their roles (unless you remember Aya Cash as Leonardo DiCaprio’s assistant in The Wolf of Wall Street, or saw any of Chris Geere’s British TV roles)—an increasingly rare occurrence on TV. I have no idea if this quartet is capable of doing anything else, but they’re absolutely perfect in these roles.
We all know, and spend our lives trying to avoid, people like Jimmy and Gretchen. Thanks to You’re the Worst, now I can’t get enough of them. And while you might not have had time for the show earlier in the summer, there’s no excuse now as we limp toward September. Go to FX now and start catching up (the first five episodes are available there; the sixth airs on FX tonight). Because every once in a great while, two wrongs actually do make a right.