The easiest way to explain You’re the Worst, FX’s anti-romcom romcom, which entered its second season earlier this month, would be to say that it’s a show about two awful, self-centered 30-somethings who don’t “do” relationships ending up in a relationship, united by their mutual awfulness and maybe a shared love of cocaine. The reluctant couple, Gretchen and Jimmy, aren’t very nice, they spend a lot of time aggressively not caring about things (personal property, corporate property, other people’s feelings), and they’re blacked out more than most sitcom characters. But reducing You’re the Worst to its basic premise – he’s the worst and she’s the worst and, together, they’re the worst – means overlooking one tiny detail, which is that, over the course of the last season, You’re the Worst grew into one of the most sensitive, even sweet, shows on TV. The characters may not be so good at feelings, but the show is a nonstop exploration of them. Feelings don’t drive the plot — feelings are the plot.
From the minute they meet in the pilot, smoking outside Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend’s wedding – he’s been thrown (literally) out of the reception by the groom; she’s in the process of stealing a blender – it’s obvious they’re made for each other, and not just because they’re both awful. Gretchen (Aya Cash) is a pathologically irresponsible music publicist who doesn’t give a fuck and also has great eyeliner; Jimmy (Chris Geere) is a British novelist with a minorly successful first novel, no second book, and an overinflated ego.
Both of them arrange their lives so that there will be no stakes, ever: to lose something, you’d have to care about it to begin with, and both Gretchen and Jimmy have decided not to do that. If you’re the worst, then you don’t have to care about anyone else’s feelings, and you don’t have to acknowledge your own feelings, and also you can steal a cat (an appealing tabby, vengefully stolen from a bookstore, is the unsung fixture of the first season). It’s an all-purpose get-out-of-jail-free card – how can you expect anything more than whatever you get? They’re the worst! Gretchen and Jimmy may be making the only choice they’re capable of making, but most of the first season is built around their shared conviction that it’s also the morally superior one. Staid, ordinary, unexceptional “sweater people” care. People like Gretchen and Jimmy may be stunted and selfish and kind of mean, but that is what makes them special and fun, and special and fun is what matters.
And then they find each other, throwing both of them into crisis, because it turns out that maybe they do care – reluctantly, and incompetently, but, it turns out, honestly. You’re the Worst isn’t about people who would be perfect together, if only they’d realize it. It’s about two people who realize immediately that they are perfect together, and that’s the problem.
But by the end of the first season, they’ve mostly happily surrendered to the inevitability of their relationship. “Maybe we’re like two pit bulls, you know?” Gretchen says, in one of the greatest, romcom-iest speeches of the show’s many great, romcom-y speeches. “You put either with another dog, and that dog’s toast. But together, they’re couch buds. They nullify the threat through mutually assured destruction.” And while, yes, she’s mistakenly accepting a marriage proposal that hasn’t actually been offered, and yes, she’s about to be humiliated, she’s right about the pit bulls. By the end of the episode, she’ll have acquiesced to Jimmy’s invitation to move in – only partially because she accidentally burned down her own apartment with a vibrator plugged into Christmas lights (she’s still herself, after all) – and, were this a movie, the credits would roll there.
But it isn’t, and on television, the show must go on. The question of Gretchen and Jimmy’s romance – which propelled the first season, despite never actually being a real question – has been resolved, at least for the moment, leaving the show to find a new set of emotional hurdles in the second season.
Now that Jimmy and Gretchen are living together in their liquor-fueled version domestic bliss, the show leans into its supporting cast, since at least they still have the problems of the romantically miserable. Gretchen’s best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue), a “hot awesome sex fox” (her words), is finally separating from her doughy, nerdy, soon-to-be-ex-husband Paul (Allan McLeod), causing her to feel unfamiliar sensations like vulnerability and sadness. This development only endears her further to Jimmy’s roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges), an Iraq War vet with PTSD and the distinction of being the only unequivocally nice person on the show. But while Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship felt genuinely inevitable because of who they are, Edgar and Lindsay’s potential pairing feels inevitable because this is a sitcom and they’re the other two characters.
You’re the Worst has never been particularly subversive, but it’s always been incredibly specific, not about plot or setting or exactly what anyone does all day (what does anyone do all day?), but about the experience of feeling feelings. In comparison, the Lindsay/Edgar maybe-courtship seems a little broad. That means that the onus to anchor the show’s very particular brand of emotional honesty (and the best jokes) falls on the newly cohabiting couple. Three episodes in, the show is still adjusting to the sudden stability of their relationship.
Afraid of becoming ordinary adults (“sweater people”), Gretchen and Jimmy spend much of the first three episodes making various attempts to stave off the threat of normalcy. These include a joint six-night bender, a meltdown at the counter of “Towels & Things,” and an attempt to “party” with old friends, who now are all prim, boring people with babies who have “get togethers” instead. But while there are a lot of standout moments – Gretchen’s Towels & Things meltdown (“I have to completely furnish, from scratch, the life of an adult woman, and I have no clue how to do that!”) is as good as the show has ever been, and the show has been great – nothing yet quite replaces the romantic urgency that drove the first season.
Perhaps that’s inevitable. Perhaps, as Jimmy and Gretchen themselves feared, stable relationships are less interesting than budding ones. But there are other ways to be interesting. “We couldn’t be one of the sweater people,” Jimmy realizes, “even if we wore, like, 10 cardigans each.” The show couldn’t be one of the sweater shows, either. By the end of the most recent episode – the best of the season so far – it’s given Edgar and Lindsay an unexpectedly heart-wrenching kiss, suggested new plotlines surrounding the agony of navigating adult friendships, and returned us, at the end of the night, to a quiet evening of drunken dancing at home. Or it would have, if Gretchen’s friend hadn’t stolen the stereo. No cardigans here.