Why Don’t You Take It?
by ETHAN PETERSON
You’re the Worst
creator Stephen Falk
There is a moment during the tumultuous second season of the brilliant comedy You’re the Worst where Jimmy (Chris Geere) is about to cheat on his girlfriend with the woman who owns the bar closest to his home, Nina (Tessa Ferrer). He mounts her on the bar’s counter and politely asks if he can suck on her toes while he’s inside her. She presents ten bruised and battered digits, casualties of her bronze-medal winning run as an Olympic skier. He is aghast, but attempts to forge forward. Noticing his reaction, she demurs. “A second ago,” she explains, “I was going to let you raw dog me on my own bar.”
Jimmy is very far from the worst, which makes the unconscionable title of Stephen Falk’s series about unhappiness inaccurate at best and wildly misleading at, um, worst. He doesn’t end up cheating on his live-in paramour, Gretchen (Aya Cash).
Before I met my fiancée, I dated a charming woman. Once we were walking through a park near the Brooklyn Bridge and I stopped to take a picture. She had this judgmental smirk on her face, since undoubtedly many people had paused in this same space in order to record a similar moment. “I try not to be basic,” she told me, and I immediately wondered why anyone would want to try not to enjoy something.
In season one of You’re the Worst, Gretchen and Jimmy are increasingly similar to this woman I met. She was unhappy with the way others experienced the world: it had some kind of invisible, dehabilitating effect on how much she was able to enjoy Earth and mankind. I told her honestly that I never thought about anyone else unless I had a good reason to do so.
Geere and Cash make a very believable couple; and yet there is something vaguely wrong and substantially off about their relationship. You can see that while some aspects of being together come very naturally, others are clumsy and more than a little harmful to both of their egos. Ultimately they are not really a good match, but they have the unique compatibility of not being very palatable to others unlike themselves.
Cash’s performance as the clinically depressed Gretchen is the emotional heart of You’re the Worst. In comparison, Geere comes across as happy-go-lucky when he complains about the direction of his career as a novelist or his interpersonal failures. Gretchen’s sadder journey resulted in an astonishing scene this past season where she broke up a fight outside a radio station by whipping out a handgun. “I felt nothing,” she tells her friend Lindsey (Kether Donaghue) after the frightening moment.
Lindsey is divorced from her husband Paul, and endlessly pursued by Jimmy’s roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges). The subplots involving Jimmy and Gretchen’s friends always seemed a bit atonal from the main thrust of the series, but this changed with the introduction of the show’s best secondary character, Dorothy (Collette Wolfe). Edgar meets Dorothy when he takes an improv class at a local theater where she is an instructor. There is something so comforting about a relationship where one person has all the power, and uses it only for good.
In Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship, it becomes increasingly unclear who has command of the ship, or whether there is a captain at all. Jimmy’s reaction to Gretchen’s bizarrely delayed disclosure of her clinical depression is meant to be typical — misunderstanding her condition, he attempts to thinks of ways that he can snap her out of this funk. At times such a storyline could begin to approach the tenor of an afterschool special, but the intermitted emotional and nonemotional way these two brilliant actors exchange their affection transcends the awkwardness of the subject matter.
Season two of You’re the Worst was such magnificent television that despite the show’s niche audience Falk was given the go-ahead on a third season, which debuts on August 31st. Hopefully Netflix will pick this show up afterwards, since its genius eclipses the tired formulas of last two shows Falk worked on, Weeds and Orange is the New Black. (Some old episodes of You’re the Worst can be streamed on Amazon Prime.) Whereas before the show seemed to belong to Jimmy and the immensely charismatic Geere, Gretchen’s illness has allowed Aya Cash to make You’re the Worst the stage for the best performance by a single woman since Mary Tyler Moore. Love is all around.
Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.