“I’m gonna leave you anyway.” This refrain comprises most of the theme song to You’re the Worst, which, as advertised, is a rather dark, quirky comedy about some less than likable human beings. Would I want to be friends in real life with basically any of the characters on this show? Absolutely not. But are they a lot of fun to watch? Most certainly.
You’re the Worst was created by Stephen Falk and originally premiered on FX before moving to its sister network, FXX. It primarily follows Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), two very flawed people who meet at a wedding and end up in a probably ill-advised relationship. Jimmy is a self-centered, British writer who lives a rather lazy life off the profits of magazine articles and one not-very-successful novel. He is incredibly blunt and off-putting with a knack for offending. Gretchen is a pessimistic music producer with a fondness for drugs whose life is in constant disarray. Jimmy lives with Edgar (Desmin Borges), an Iraq war veteran with PTSD who, despite being a bit of a freeloader, is a far better friend to Jimmy than Jimmy is to him. Gretchen’s best friend is Lindsay (Kether Donohue), who is kind of clueless and unhappily married to a nerdy guy with money.
Despite their many flaws, all of the characters have something endearing about them. While they’re definitely dysfunctional as a couple, there’s an ease to Jimmy and Gretchen’s bond that’s hard to ignore. The moment the show irrevocably hooked me was midway through season one in the episode entitled “Sunday Funday.” In addition to being relatable, especially to a millennial living in Los Angeles, the plot is just hilarious. Edgar sets out to plan the ultimate Sunday Funday (which involves “near-constant drinking”), but quickly realizes a group of hipsters is stealing all of his ideas. Season two has its own Halloween-themed Sunday Funday episode that riffs on the intensely professional Halloween attractions LA does so well and had me in stitches. They even have a song—”Sunday Funday, better than a Monday, can only do it one way, and that is the drunk way!”
I need to focus much of this post on one particular development in season two that has rightfully received great acclaim. Early on in the season, Gretchen starts acting a bit strange—Jimmy notices she’s sneaking out of the house at night and acting withdrawn. One night he follows her and finds her sitting at a scenic overlook, crying in her car. After some aggressive day-drinking, Gretchen has a pretty mean outburst that leads Lindsay, who has known her a long time, to realize what is happening—Gretchen’s clinical depression has gotten bad again.
The best part about this reveal, aside from how honestly and frankly it was handled, was that it made perfect sense given everything we already knew about Gretchen. Things that may have seemed like quirks at first, such as the Hoarders-level condition of her apartment (which she actually accidentally burns down at the end of the first season) and the fact that she nonchalantly stores many of her possessions in garbage bags, were actually symptoms of her battle with her own brain chemistry all along. In one of the series’ most upsetting episodes to date, “LCD Soundsystem,” Gretchen becomes obsessed with a neighbor family who seem to have the perfect life, going as far as tricking the nanny into letting her watch their child in a grocery store and even dog-napping their pug and passing it off as hers for a day. When she learns that this couple she’s had on a pedestal is actually near-divorce, the illusion is shattered and she is devastated. Her actions in this episode are not normal or justifiable—they are the actions of someone who is mentally ill and on the brink of self-destruction, and it is heartbreaking to watch.
It takes a while, but Gretchen finally tells Jimmy about her depression. Like many people, he doesn’t understand at first. To him, this is something he can easily remedy by lifting her spirits. But no, as Gretchen points out, she has dealt with this almost her entire life, and there is nothing he can do to fix her. He gradually comes around to accept this, leading to one extremely touching scene where, when Gretchen is in a bout of depression so bad she cannot bring herself to leave the house, Jimmy builds a fort in the living room and just lies there with her, keeping her company. The show also addresses the issue of treatment—Jimmy is stunned to learn Gretchen is not on medication or in therapy, and their relationship is a factor in her deciding to seek professional help rather than attempting to continue managing her symptoms on her own.
I believe part of the reason that mental illness is represented on television so relatively rarely (and represented correctly and well even MORE rarely) is because writers are taught to show and not tell, and it is hard to show a disease that is so internal, specific to the individual, and, honestly, boring. Depression is not flashy or glamorous or exciting. Like You’re the Worst depicts so well, depression is crying for no reason and being unmotivated to leave the house. I keep coming back to this article by TV critic Todd VanDerWerff in which he discusses his wife’s battle with clinical depression, its effects on their relationship, and how well You’re the Worst understood not only the disease, but what it is like to love someone with it. A little-known dramedy on a second tier cable network is hardly the place I expected to find what I see as one of the best depictions of mental illness ever on television, but this show surprised me at every turn.
You’re the Worst has been renewed for a third season. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.