'You're the Worst' gives the rom-com formula a mild case of crabs

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Image Credit: Byron Cohen/FX

Suggested alternate title: Love in the Time of Cynicism.

From the moment you see Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) taking pictures of his junk during a wedding toast, it’s pretty clear You’re the Worst doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. To wit, Jimmy is mid-waltz with the bride—his ex—when he informs her he’s only come to her wedding to gawk at the imminent “disaster” of love and marriage.

The surly new half-hour rom-com from Stephen Falk (Orange Is the New Black) presents a challenge for itself by offering up a character like Jimmy as its entrée into the series. Despite audiences’ seemingly insatiable appetite for antiheroes in basic-cable dramas, it’s fairly rare to lead a comedy with someone kind of awful (Worst‘s FX sibling Louie has been blazing that trail to much acclaim). How are viewers meant to fall in love with Jimmy, who’s as reactive as he is bitter? And, more importantly, how are they to believe a woman would fall in love with him?

Jimmy meets his match in Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash), a similarly jaded, love-averse twentysomething who knows Jimmy’s ex. Appropriately, they meet after he’s been physically thrown to the curb and after she’s purloined a blender from the gift table. After Gretchen truth-bombs Jimmy with the show’s title (a response to, “So what have you heard about me?”), they take exactly 4 minutes and 10 seconds to launch into a sexathon. Both assuming theirs is a wham-bam arrangement, they, ahem, expose their deepest secrets and vulnerabilities to each other. (He found out his girlfriend was going to dump him by reading her e-mail; her stories end with phrases like “…and that’s how I got crabs from my guidance counselor.”) It’s in these moments that Worst is at its best. Jimmy and Gretchen are next-level warts-and-all, yet they’re a matching set, and there’s no denying their chemistry. We’re in on the joke from the jump and here to watch the “disaster” unfold. (And sure, we’ll stick around for the masturbation jokes, recreational cocaine use, mortifying booty calls, and spat-upon genitals in between.)

In a refreshing change of pace, Gretchen stands on equal footing with Jimmy, no more of a mess than any other Millennial. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a mess—a DUI-getting, sweaty-socked mess—but she’s not a twee, man-obsessed klutz. She has no qualms about inviting herself to sleep over or telling off Jimmy for a snarling overreaction in her direction after a bad day. (He later compliments her vim and vinegar, deeming her speech “funny and true and mean—my favorite kind.”) Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that Gretchen wraps her speech by stealing Jimmy’s car. It’s a real “Kids, don’t try this at home” moment, but an on-point contrivance to reunite two people who would be too pridefully disengaged to re-enter each other’s lives.

Like the central relationship itself, the pilot isn’t fully committed to its supporting characters. Some serve only as plot devices: Gretchen’s friend “Fat” Lindsey (Kether Donohue) is the bride’s sister, who invites her to the wedding and drives home Jimmy’s supposed unlikeability; Edgar (Desmin Borges), Jimmy’s veteran roommate afflicted with PTSD and “mild to medium battlefield-induced psychosis,” forces Jimmy to realize Gretchen stimulates him non-sexually, as well. Other characters solely amplify the protagonists’ personalities, particularly a neighborhood tween named Killian (Shane Francis Smith), who gives Jimmy occasion to launch into his own speech, which is more caustic and overblown the funny and true: “I’m an adult. Do you know what that means? It means I am beset upon 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.” And then both boys played video games.

But You’re the Worst isn’t primed to be an ensemble comedy. (And don’t those always devolve into romance anyway?) By episode’s end, when Gretchen is alternately having foot fetish phone sex with Jimmy and admitting that she’s “scared of this s—” (this “s—” being love), we’re beyond flirting with the dynamic between two commitment phobics. When they briefly drop their mutual grimace and break into hopeful smiles, we’re ready to open up our own black hearts and risk getting hurt by the series’ admittedly limiting conceit. Happily, Worst has an edge on one-and-done films including No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits—it has time to unravel the snarking-while-softening dynamic between two romantic atheists. It seems this could be the start of a beautifully off-kilter courtship.

You’re the Worst airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX.

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