By Jessica Zafra
THE FIRST TIME we see Jimmy Shive-Overly, he is taking pictures of his genitals with those cute disposable “Help us make memories” cameras at the wedding reception of his ex-girlfriend. (Hire a photographer, people. It’s bad enough that we have to sit through your boring two-hour video before dinner is served). He proceeds to get himself thrown out of the reception. The first time we see Gretchen Cutler, she is stealing one of the wedding gifts at the same reception, thinking that it is a food processor (Tough luck: it’s a blender). The two meet while waiting for a taxi, and having nothing better to do, they go back to his place.
Between bouts of energetic sex (Keep children and prudes away from the screen), they exchange tales of the awful things they have done. “I’m glad this is a one-night thing because we can reveal this awful shit about ourselves,” says Jimmy, who takes pride in his honesty but is really just an insensitive jerk. Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) are horrible, selfish, toxic personalities, and they belong together. Not since Buffy the slayer started sneaking around with Spike the vampire with the Billy Idol hair have I rooted for an onscreen couple so avidly (Sorry, Lady Mary and Cousin Matthew RIP from Downton Abbey).
Unlike those romantic comedies in which allegedly terrible people fall in love and turn out to be sweet, decent types nursing their scarred hearts behind a veneer of sarcasm and vitriol, this FX series created by Stephen Falk is committed to the awfulness of its characters. Jimmy and Gretchen are not purified and reformed by love. When Gretchen unthinkingly asks for a key to Jimmy’s house so that she can retrieve her clothes from the dryer, Jimmy goes into a rant about his freedom. Midway through the first season they have a competition over who can get laid more, and both resort to seducing exes in order to raise their scores.
What we have here, oddly enough, is a realistic depiction of present-day relationships. Theirs is based on total acceptance and a lack of illusions. They know the worst of each other. Gretchen set her high school on fire so she could get out of a math exam. She inadvertently burns down her apartment because she couldn’t find an extension cord and plugged her vibrator into the Christmas lights. Jimmy, a writer whose royalties for his first novel amount to $17, takes the neighbor’s kid to the bookstore and then forgets him. The lovers are always aware that two weeks or two decades hence, their relationship will end in misery and horror. Is that not truer to the transience of earthly pleasures that the Romantics talked about, than that awful romcom crap about happy endings?
Jimmy, possibly the only non-ripped, abs-free male lead on TV today, is British and caustic, which is great for delivering rants. “You want to hang out sometime?” the neighbor’s kid Cillian asks.
“What? What are you even talking about?” Jimmy sputters. “I’m an adult. Do you know what that means? It means that I am beset at all times by a tsunami of complex thoughts and struggles, unceasingly aware of my own mortality and able to contemplate the futility of everything and yet still rage against the dying of the light. So do you see how monumentally stupid you, a child, asking me ‘Do I want to hang out sometime’ is?”
“My dad designs video games,” Cillian says. “We get all the new ones early.”
“Come over around 8 o’clock.”
One staple of mediocre romcoms is the stock sidekick who has no life of her own and exists only to comment on the leads’ romance. In You’re the Worst, the sidekicks are complicated characters who are even more screwed-up than the leads. Gretchen’s best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue), married a rich non-entity just to beat her older sister to the altar. She cheats on him frequently. Jimmy has a rent-free boarder, his former drug dealer Edgar (Desmin Borges), an Iraq veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder and a heroin addiction. Edgar is the only character on the show who believes in love, so he roots for Jimmy and Gretchen.
“Why would I even listen to you?” Jimmy tells Edgar. “You’re a mental case. You’re on a billion medications that all say, Take for batshit craziness.”
“I was defending our country,” Edgar points out.
“Oh please. You weren’t defending anything except the business interests of evil men.”
“Jimmy, our country IS the business interests of evil men.”
Gretchen is the PR agent of a rap trio led by Sam (Brandon Mychal Smith), who projects an urban thug image but is really into American Craftsman furniture. Sam’s cohorts Shitstain (Darrell Britt-Gibson) and Honeynutz (Allen Maldonado) like to go to cinemas in Beverly Hills to watch Wes Anderson movies with the white people. There are lots of movie references on the show, from the “Truffaut” cigarettes Jimmy won’t share because they’re expensive, to the hilarious Usual Suspects homage when he realizes that Gretchen is lying to him. The couple’s shared hatred for Cameron, the best friend in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, sums up their worldview.
With a comedy so sharp, rude and pessimistic, there is the ever-present danger that it will get duller, nicer and more cheerful as it progresses. Thankfully, You’re the Worst shows no signs of going over to the bright side. Nice people, go read your Nicholas Sparks novels and sing your Disney princess songs, there’s nothing for you here.
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