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The Brilliant Long Con of ‘You’re the Worst’

The Brilliant Long Con of 'You're the Worst'

I didn’t make much of it at first.

After all, Gretchen (Aya Cash), the intemperate PR rep of FXX’s biting sophomore comedy, “You’re the Worst,” vowed never to relinquish her independence when she moved in with her narcissistic boyfriend, Jimmy (Chris Geere), at the end of the first season. In this context, her decision to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night at the conclusion of “All About That Paper” was not terribly noteworthy—another attempt, like the season premiere’s drunken, drug-addled bender, to avoid becoming, as Jimmy puts it, one of those “disgusting normals.”

And then it happened again.

(Spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up.)

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As Gretchen sneaks out in the middle of the night a second time, and
then a third—arousing Jimmy’s suspicion that she’s cheating on him, at
least until he discovers her crying in her car—”You’re the Worst”
patiently lays the groundwork for its looming revelation. Nighttime
drives, testy rejoinders, a slight haggardness: none of these, alone, is
necessarily telling, and yet Cash delicately builds one atop the next
until we learn
that Gretchen suffers from depression, and the news comes as no real shock. It’s like
we’ve known it all along.
After last night’s melancholy, dreamlike “LCD Soundsystem,” written and directed by series creator Stephen Falk, it’s clear that the second season of “You’re the Worst” has been a brilliant long con, hiding a deft and surprising introduction to a challenging subject—clinical depression—beneath its carefree surface. Gretchen’s close encounter with a successful couple from the neighborhood (Justin Kirk and Tara Summers), and with at least one of the lives she might have led, contains reserves of pain that run too deep to be lumped in with the fear of stasis and routine. When the light leaves her eyes near episode’s end, “LCD Soundsystem” emerges as an emotional seismograph, measuring the magnitude of her heartbreak. 

Though the series’ terrific recent run may not excuse the frustrations of this season’s initial entries, which emphasized the characters’ callowness until it became a shtick—”I’m an irresponsible monster!” Gretchen screams at one point, paralyzed by the vastness of a home goods store—I see now that the desperate humor was a mark of genuine desperation, foreshadowing the many-layered hybrid “You’re the Worst” has since become. Refusing to allow its acerbic, self-assured debut to harden into habit, the series risked more than a few stiff moments in the service of its complex construction, and this ambitious gambit is paying off.

Set on the day of the L.A. Marathon, the characters trapped at home by snarled traffic, the season’s seventh episode, “There Is Not Currently a Problem,” is a microcosm of the series’ higher gear—still brashly funny, but now run through with tense, thorny energy. Gretchen fidgets, dances, and drinks herself into a kind of stupor, only to lash out at Jimmy, his longtime roommate, Edgar (Desmin Borges), Edgar’s new love interest, Dorothy (Collette Wolfe), and even her best friend, Lindsay (the indispensible Kether Donohue). “All of you, sucking the air out of the room with you’re self-pity-riddled non-problems!” Gretchen screams. “This place is an emotional black hole!”

Fearlessly pressing on the door between comedy and drama until it flings wide open, “There Is Not Currently a Problem” and now “LCD Soundsystem” confirm that the conceit of the series is not simply to see sparks fly when “unlikable” or “difficult” characters are thrown together, but to suggest that we’re all spiny constellations of unsolved problems, past, current, and future: the admonishment of the title, “You’re the Worst,” is something of a universal. Indeed, in between these two half-hours of impressive (re-) invention, the hilarious, metal-as-fuck haunted warehouse of “Spooky Sunday Funday” — with an allusion to “The Silence of the Lambs” involving Donohue’s Lindsay that is “just BEYOND,” as I wrote in my notes — pauses to consider the lesser horrors of Edgar’s awkward attempts at romance, or Lindsay’s utter lack of life skills, with similar empathy. (Only Jimmy’s authorial doubt remains underdeveloped, though it may be that his problem is overcoming his insensitivity to others’.)

Without recourse to simplistic aphorism (its message is much more complicated than “the grass is always greener on the other side”), “LCD Soundsystem” introduces two characters who’ve constructed a life to which Gretchen aspires, only to find upon closer inspection that contentment remains elusive no matter what choices one makes. “You guys are great,” she tells Kirk’s film restorer, reversing the terms of the series’ title. “Are we?” he replies. I can’t speak to this season’s depiction of depression, of which I luckily have no experience, but what’s made this mid-stream turn toward the harder edges of growing up so effective is the tacit understanding that Gretchen’s brain chemistry, Edgar’s war wounds, Lindsay’s divorce, and even Jimmy’s professional plateau are of a piece, if never exactly equivalent. When Gretchen says “You can’t fix me, Jimmy. I don’t need to be fixed,” I suspect she’s speaking for everyone, on screen and off.  

In effect, then, the “long con” of “You’re the Worst” is no con at all, except insofar as the first person we trick is most often ourselves. The series’ understanding of the halting evolution that is adulthood, the frightening work of trying and failing to shape who we are into who we want to be, was, of course, there all the while. To wit, as Gretchen retreats to the car in “All About That Paper,” Torres comes up on the soundtrack. “Lay off me, would ya?” the song begins. “I’m just trying to take this new skin for a spin.”

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