We all know how romantic comedies work right? Two initially mismatched people, he’s usually cynical and world weary and she’s generally hyper quirky, are pushed together throughout a series of awkward situations until they find some kind of common ground. One of them will confess their feelings in some big grand gesture, usually after some kind of drama that threatens to split them. Big happy ending, sometimes not, audience is smile-crying. The End. Roll credits. Even comedian of the now Amy Schumer’s take on the genre Trainwreck managed to replicate this formula. You’re The Worst’s main characters writer Jimmy Shive-Overley (Chris Geere from Waterloo Road) and publicist Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash from The Newsroom) are perfect for each other from the start, because they’re both horrible people.
You’re The Worst is as sharply written and observed as we’ve come to expect from the current age of US sitcom. The first episode alone functions as a perfect miniature movie, complete with its big confession moment. But You’re The Worst is all about what happens after that initial spark has fired into life. Producer Stephen Falk has overseen both Weeds and Orange Is The New Black so he’s well versed in crafting three dimensional characters who you want to stick with on their journey.
Both Jimmy and Gretchen meet straight after he’s attempted to sabotage his ex Becca’s wedding. With both of them in a state of drunken vulnerability, they reach out to each other for support. By going back to his to bonk the night away. All the while verbally sparring and declaring their non-interest. But between bouts of passion they open up to each other in a way they’ve never done before. Their emotional barriers colliding so hard as to come crashing down by the end of the episode when Gretchen admits she’s “scared of this shit.” They cement their oncoming relationship by reassuring each other “if we both know it can’t work then there’s no harm.” It’s a moment as cheesy as any rom-com’s ending. And by God it works.
As the first season progresses, we learn that Jimmy studied in LA and had one successful novel which he’s unable to follow up. Constantly arguing with the owners of his local bookshop and ignoring letters from his dad. His roommate Edgar, a Gulf War vet, acts as his conscience as well as his personal chef. And Gretchen is an ex-party girl who fell into becoming a publicist for rapper Sam Dresden. Both share an equally cynical worldview and nothing is spared from their snarky putdowns.
The foundations of sitcom are built upon flawed characters. The self loathing of Mark Corrigan in Peep Show and the rampant self interest of practically everyone in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. But You’re The Worst dares to show the human side of its cast in a way that’s unique. In the first season we learn that Jimmy, like every cynic, is a bruised romantic. And the second season explores depression and its devastating effects on sufferers and their relationships. One heartbreaking episode in season 2 revolves around Gretchen realising her imagined perfect life isn’t so perfect after all.
Even the supporting cast get their moments in the spotlight. Gretchen’s sassy best friend and Becca’s sister Lindsay, played excellently by Kether Donahue, starts the show essentially living a lie. Another former wildchild, she’s in a loveless marriage purely for the money. Starting off carefree, she bemoans how boring she’s become in order to live a life expected of her. It’s not too long before she’s back to her wayward self and it all comes crashing down around her. Even her sister Becca isn’t happy with the life she thought she wanted and the cracks in her marriage start to show.
The main recurring cast are all uniformly excellent. Chris Geere is channeling his best Charlie Brooker impression. His summing up of Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as a miserable, agoraphobic, cock-blocking enemy of fun sounds like it could have come straight from everyone’s favourite miserablist. Aya Cash really captures Gretchen’s deep apathy in her performance. Desmin Borges hits the right balance of Edgar’s enthusiasm hiding his PTSD. But it’s Kether Donohue who’s the breakout star for me. Her cartoon voiced Lindsay (Kether’s previously done a lot of voice over work after all) can charm in one sentence with a wide smile and destroy the next with a razor sharp curled lip. Slight spoilers but her pathos filled performance in the first season finale nearly steals the episode!
There’s also a surprisingly all too real depiction of typical English folk. When Jimmy’s family arrives, looking like they’ve stepped straight out of a particularly exploitative reality series, his sister Fiona’s idea of good news is getting a cashier job in Tesco and his young sister Lily’s uni dreams have been put aside to avoid ridicule. Lindsay best sums them up as “Alabama English people”. Jimmy’s dad is played by David Schaal who Inbetweeners fans might recognise as fibber Jay’s dad. And he’s just as bullish and emotionally crippled here.
Not that Gretchen’s family is much better. Coming from a background of privilege, Gretchen also had a hard time pleasing her demanding parents. Trying to live up to their image of respectability when one glimpse at her homelife shows she’s clearly not up to the task. And Lindsay’s relationship with her sister is one giant competition for attention. One that led to Lindsay getting into a doomed marriage in the first place.
Throughout both seasons, You’re The Worst is equal parts corrosive and poignant. Balancing each of these elements expertly across each episode and each season as a whole. The first season flashbacks to just before Becca’s wedding where see the making of both Jimmy and Gretchen and what led them to that night. It’s a series that demands a rewatch straight after you’ve seen the finale so you can fully appreciate how it all unfolds. Thank Christ for this age of the box set really!
At its core, You’re The Worst is about how we lie to ourselves to keep up the pretence of normality. Gretchen and Jimmy have coasted by pretending to be so apathetic about everything, forming protective bubble around themselves because the thought of caring about something, or someone, petrifies them. Cynicism is easy, empathy and compassion can be draining. As fatalistic as Jimmy and Gretchen are at the outset of their relationship, theirs is the only one in the show built to last. Lindsay is living with a practical stranger while Becca is married to an unchallenging idiot and that’s just how she likes it.
As I said at the start, we’re in an age where the US is currently producing many of the best recent sitcoms, combining deft gag writing with well crafted characters and plotting. The format’s in good health and this writer hopes that continues to be the case for a while yet. But You’re The Worst succeeds above many others because it’s inherently more human in its outlook. Sitcom, like drama, is a form of heightened reality that can be distorted to extremes and many of You’re The Worst’s characters read like caricatures. But the writing and performances bring out their other side, breathing life into archetypes like the sassy best friend and the withering cynic. It’s an irony as well that the show with perhaps the most British outlook in recent years has come from the USA. Hopefully now that it’s finally making its way onto UK TV, it can have the audience it richly deserves.
You’re The Worst begins on 5Star in April.