As the title sequence for FXX’s transgressive, smarter-than-it-should-be comedy series You’re the Worst ends, the show’s theme song fades out with the lyrics, “I’m gonna leave you anyway…”
In spite of those harsh sentiments—in fact perhaps even because of them—You’re the Worst might be the best romantic comedy that television, a medium that has notoriously struggled to make good on the polarizing genre, has ever seen.
Light-years away from the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts cookie-cutter romances that the genre is so often associated with, You’re the Worst is less about the girl standing in front of the guy asking him to love her—or anybody completing anyone—than it is about two selfish assholes giving the middle finger to the whole notion of such schmaltzy enchantment.
But as Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) cosmic connection—people this unpleasant were meant for each other—drags their one-night stand into a full-fledged relationship, the pair kicking and screaming the entire way, You’re the Worst cleverly translates its lead characters’ hilariously despicable behavior into a tortured union that becomes unexpectedly relatable and real.
This is the kind of couple whose first night together includes a story that ends, “…and that’s how I got crabs from my guidance counselor,” has their first fight when he refuses to see her when she’s on her period because she’s of no sexual use to him, and begins their relationship with the mission statement: “If you both know that it can’t work, then there’s no harm, right?” Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that some critics have branded You’re the Worst as an “anti-rom-com.”
But it’s the fact that, in spite of those things, this couple ends up together anyway that might make it the most romantic comedy. As Cash, who plays Gretchen, reasons to The Daily Beast, “I think romance is not believing something can work and doing it anyway. That’s the most romantic thing. I found their love story very sweet, because they’re fighting so hard against it.”
When Season 2 of the series, which we included in our list of 2014’s best TV shows, begins Tuesday night, Jimmy and Gretchen have become their version of a settled couple, with Gretchen moving in with Jimmy. In fact, the degree to which they are settled terrifies them, with a constant fear looming that if they don’t keep up their debaucherous lifestyles they’ll become the worst, most boring kind of couple: Sweater People.
Gretchen seeks counseling from her formerly married best friend, who gives her a talking to: “You go home tonight and you dress real slutty and you do butt stuff with your boyfriend. For all of us, who let love die by being Sweater People.” Jimmy has his own anxieties about being boring, leading to the couple staying up binging on cocaine night after night until they finally reach a burnout and a realization: “We couldn’t be Sweater People if we wore 10 cardigans each.”
It’s a heightened version of a universal relationship problem. When couples settle down, they stress over losing parts of their old selves and rebel against it—just maybe not with cocaine binges and mandatory butt play.
So as Jimmy and Gretchen’s battle against becoming Sweater People begins Tuesday night, we called up the couple’s portrayers, Chris Geere and Aya Cash, to talk about why the show resonates so much, the debate over their characters’ “unlikability,” whether the show is a romantic comedy, and their own fears about settling down.
The marriage of the title You’re the Worst and the theme song “I Never Liked You Anyway”—and the idea that these people fall in love despite actively not wanting to—speaks to how you don’t have to be a hopeless romantic to find love.
Chris: There you go. There are no rules anymore. I think films and music and our parents and just life have forced us to think one way about relationships and commitments and what they should be at specific points in your life. Hopefully we can be a voice for the fact that there are no rules and you can find your own path.
Is that something that you latched onto when you found out about the show? This isn’t the typical romantic comedy, but it certainly has something to say about romance and love.
Aya: I think romance is not believing something can work and doing it anyway. That’s the most romantic thing. So I actually found the show very romantic and I found their love story very sweet, because they’re fighting so hard against it, which I think is very romantic.
Chris: I was asked the other day about what’s my definition of love. I really had to think about it, because you want to give an answer that’s original in a way. There’s a quote in the show about putting someone else’s needs before your own and I totally agree with that, and I’m glad we explore that. But I think it’s when you do things for other people without even making a conscious decision to do it. It just happens. Those are the things I loved from the beginning, when Jimmy and Gretchen don’t simply choose to do a loving gesture towards each other. Just the looks. When a guy opens a door for a girl, the old school romantic thing—they do it in their own way.
Throughout the first season the show was often referred to as an “anti-rom-com,” which is an interesting characterization particularly as you both just said you find Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship to be romantic. What is it about the way their relationship is portrayed though, maybe in comparison to what we’re used to seeing in pop culture, that elicits that “anti-rom-com label”?
Aya: Chris just said this and I think it’s true, that it’s not a traditional rom-com in terms of the path that most movies and television shows take when you think of a romantic comedy, in terms of boy meets girl and something stands in their way and then they live happily ever after. But I think it is a romantic comedy if you take those words out of the context of the culture we’ve been in. It is romantic and a comedy. But it’s just not traditional in the sense of its structure. It’s not even Ross and Rachel and “are they going to happen?” No, they got into bed immediately and now what? How do they do deal with the ramifications of falling for each other despite their best efforts not to be together? So I just think people say “anti-romcom” because we have ideas of what romance and comedy are, and that’s no longer relevant. Trainwreck is a huge movie right now, and that’s certainly not a traditional rom-com.
Chris: I recently thought that the anti-rom-com thing was just simply referring to the fact that these are two unlikable people, where in movies you have at least one likable person who makes the other one better. Maybe that’s why it’s called “anti.” But as we discussed, it’s just the format that’s different, and that makes it more interesting and up-to-date. Like I said, it’s not a case of will they/won’t they. They do. So let’s spend hopefully several seasons telling the story of how.
It’s interesting that you just called them “unlikable.” I know you guys are asked about that a lot. One of the things that makes this so appealing is how different these characters are from the typical Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts love story.
Chris: Which are marvelous, by the way.
Oh, I’m the biggest fan of those movies. But Jimmy and Gretchen are quite different. Do you think it’s that they’re unlikable, or that they’re just more real than we’re used to seeing?
Aya: I don’t think they’re unlikable. I also think that word is so silly. Like, unlikable to who? You know? Other people like them, so how are they unlikable? That word doesn’t come into my vocabulary very often because, as an actor, it’s your job to find empathetic things in the character and not judge them in that way. So when people started asking if they’re unlikable, I was like, “Oh, who cares?” Everybody on Seinfeld is unlikable and they’re incredibly entertaining. So why do we need everyone to be “unlikable.” And people like so many different things that it seems like an unattainable goal to be likable.
Chris: I was of that school of thought last year as well. Unlikable people are murderers. These are just two people who are messed up in a way, which has forced them over time to say and do things that are unacceptable to others. What we’ve been given the opportunity to do this year is bring up a couple of reasons as to why they behave the way they do. Hopefully the audience won’t necessarily forgive us for that, but they’ll understand it a bit more. I’m super excited to see where we can go Season 3, 4, 5 now that we’re really delving into who these people are and revealing more about each other than they’ve ever done before.
Aya: I can’t wait to see Gretchen and Jimmy with a child. Can you imagine how horrible? We trust the writers, and I think there’s so much to be mined in all of the stages of the relationship.
The Season 2 premiere has a bit of a meta aspect to it. Audiences in any TV show often wonder whether having the main couple together and happy will make the show boring. And in this premiere, Jimmy and Gretchen are together and happy and wondering whether they are boring.
Aya: [Creator] Stephen Falk talks about being from the school of [Orange Is the New Black creator] Jenji Kohan and he once said that she said to put it all out there, don’t save anything. I think Stephen is totally willing to put us into situations where normally you’d save that for the end of the series, for the finale. He’s like, “Nope, we’re going to start there and see where else we can go,” which is exciting.
Chris: It’s exciting for us to see what happens, and for the fans as well. Everyone invested in the show knows that Jimmy and Gretchen are not the kind of people who he would go down on one knee to propose to her. He wouldn’t book a surprise holiday. He’s just not that kind of guy. So what’s the alternative to that? What would Jimmy and Gretchen do, as other people wouldn’t do?
Even though most people aren’t fighting the fear of becoming a “Sweater Person” by having a coke binge all night long with their partner, it is a legitimate concern that many couples have, that they’ll lose their edge or sense of adventure by settling down. So it is a heightened version of a very relatable thing.
Aya: Completely. I think the word “heightened” is resonant for me. First of all, we don’t improv on this show. The language is slightly heightened. It’s a very specific tone created by the writers. I don’t know a ton of people who are exactly like Jimmy and Gretchen in terms of their behavior. But in terms of their desires, they are incredibly relatable. No, I may not go on a coke binge in order to feel cool and hip, but I definitely have that feeling of, “Oh God, I’m married and have a Volvo.” What does that say about who I am? And trying to combat that and do things that make me feel connected to another part of myself that is younger or less settled. So that’s what I think people connect to, but lived out to an exponential degree by Jimmy and Gretchen.
How often are you asked to list your own vices and transgressions because you’re playing Jimmy and Gretchen? I imagine that people are curious. What’s it like to be constantly asked to publicly recount your craziest all-nighters?
Chris: We are quite often asked what our Sunday Funday would be in real life, and I always fear that we disappoint the journalists because Aya and I are both married and not necessarily as outrageous as Jimmy and Gretchen.
Aya: We actually just finished an interview about being on Tinder and dating and being single.
Chris: We had no idea.
Aya: We were just like, “I don’t know.” “Never heard of that.” (Laughs)
So often actors are conflated with their characters. But this must be an even wilder experience of that, given the nature of Jimmy and Gretchen’s behavior.
Aya: But the truth is, like, I don’t know—actors generally can’t play exactly themselves because they have no perspective. So you can’t make very interesting choices. But if you’re past that point in your life you can have more perspective about it and make more interesting choices because you can both identify and separate from it. So I think it’s probably good that we’re so different. Because obviously we wouldn’t be showing up to work on time and professional. (Laughs) We would probably be fired if we were actually Jimmy and Gretchen.