Retrospective: You’re the Worst is the best comedy series you’ve probably never seen

You’re the Worst follows the romance of two cynical, biting, selfish, judgmental, flakey leads. And, as Dominic Corry explains, the five season comedy series that ended in 2019 is the best show you’ve never seen.

Joachin Trier, writer/director of current cinematic darling The Worst Person in the World, has been widely quoted as describing his movie as “a rom-com for people who don’t like rom-coms”. As marvellous as the film is, it’s not really the most accurate descriptor as it sets up an expectation for some sort of take on rom-com tropes that doesn’t entirely apply to a film much more concerned with treading its own unique character-centric path.

Trier’s statement is much better applied to the wonderfully acerbic five season comedy You’re the Worst, which flips the rom-com on its head in a much more direct manner.

You’re the Worst centres around two Los Angelinos: Gretchen (Aya Cash, The Boys), a music industry publicist, and Jimmy (Chris Geere, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu), a transplanted British novelist. In the first episode, they meet at the wedding of Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend, who is the sister of Lindsay (Kether Donohue), Gretchen’s best friend. Jimmy is there to get one over on his ex, and Gretchen hates the bride too. After Jimmy is kicked out of the wedding and encounters Gretchen stealing a wedding gift, they both declare their hatred for long-term romance, and promptly hook up.

The ostensible gimmick of You’re the Worst is that Gretchen and Jimmy are both awful people. But they’re not awful. Not really.

Sure, they’re cynical, biting, selfish, judgmental, flakey and many other unappealing things. But they’re not bad. It just seems that way because romantic stories have for so long white-washed the way people actually behave (and think) in these situations. The genius of You’re the Worst is that it has its romantic leads actually articulate all the ugly and confused thoughts that can form when romance rears its head. They’re just more shameless about it than we’re used to, as viewers.

One avenue of entry could be to think of it as a romantic comedy centred around a young male and female Larry David. There’s an early scene where they bond over yelling at people using cellphones in movie theatres, and it might be one of the most romantic things I’ve ever seen.

Gretchen and Jimmy are both very committed to not being committed to anyone, but they continue to spend time together (i.e. they keep hooking up), and start to pursue something resembling a relationship. There’s no drawn-out will-they-or-won’t-they, it’s more like: they-will-then-they-won’t-then-they-will-again-but-deny-it-then-disappear. It’s messy, complicated, funny and weird. You know, love.

Unlike the aforementioned movie, You’re the Worst wallows in rom-com conventions, but mainly with the goal of upending them. The audience has been so conditioned in this genre that gentle subversion feels revelatory. And the subversion here isn’t gentle. It’s loud, brash and hilarious.

So the show works purely on the level of picking apart the saccharine nature of most comedic romantic stories, but it turned out that there’s actually a lot more going on here. It approaches the topic of mental health with a rare directness—Gretchen is clinically depressed, and the show doesn’t skirt around it, even as she attempts to.

The show is also very sex-positive in a way that makes all previous funny romance stories seem prudish in comparison. There is fucking-a-plenty in this show, and it’s great.

The other two main characters also bring much to the scenario: Donohue is arguably the best thing about the series, and deserved to break out more from her fearless, glorious, joyous performance here. The hedonistic Lindsay is stuck in a loveless marriage to an amiable nerd, and works out her frustrations by cutting loose with co-enabler Gretchen, and it’s a wonderful thing to behold.

The fourth main cast member is Desmin Borges, who plays Jimmy’s roommate/friend Edgar, an Iraq war veteran suffering from severe (and again, frankly portrayed) PTSD, which conflicts with his otherwise guileless, deadpan demeanour. When the show starts, you expect Lindsay and Edgar to function as counterpoints to the main characters, but they both have highly specific journeys of their own, which may or may not involve becoming romantically entangled with each other.

Across five seasons, the show builds up a dense universe of well-realised supporting players who come and go and help to illuminate our central foursome’s foibles. There’s no such thing as the status quo in this series, every character is on a path, and they all evolve in unpredictable ways as the seasons progress. Happy endings are far from guaranteed, and it’s richer for it.

There’s a nice contemporary sense of life in Los Angeles too, a world apart from the sitcom-derived notions of the city that long dominated. There are awesomely specific pop culture references, and bizarro celebrity cameos (Doug Benson! Lou Diamond Phillips!) that positively sing. Also: your weekends will never be the same after you are exposed to Sunday Funday.

Created by Stephen Falk (Weeds, Orange is the New Black), who used to write reality tv recaps for Television Without Pity, You’re the Worst feels like a call to arms to acknowledge the fragile fallibility of humans in all situations, not just romantic. Which is something mainstream entertainment has long struggled with. The show has real bite, and every character here does things you don’t like at some point, which only makes their emotional journeys all the more satisfying. And it’s funny, very very funny.

Nuanced and blatant at the same time, You’re the Worst is a sharp-tasting antidote to most contemporary depictions of romance. You’ll fall in love.