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You’re The Worst is TV’s most accurate depiction of 21st century dating

Aya Cash (left), Chris Geere
Aya Cash (left), Chris Geere

You’re The Worst premiered on FX last summer, the first in a wave of romantic-comedy-themed sitcoms like A To Z, Selfie, and Manhattan Love Story. And with the passage of time, You’re The Worst survived a harsh and unforgiving television landscape while those other shows did not.

To say that You’re The Worst is better than those canceled shows is, in many ways, selling it short. You’re The Worst survived for many reasons, the most significant reason being its commitment to its premise. There are no attempts to revive a beloved and classic narrative, like Selfie. There are no gimmicks in storytelling, like those in A To Z or Manhattan Love Story. Creator Stephen Falk established a world in which two oddly compatible self-proclaimed “terrible people” meet and decide to pursue a relationship against their better judgment. That’s it. It’s very simple.

Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) is a novelist, a grating portrayal of what it’d be like if @GuyInYourMFA came to life. Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) is a self-destructive and manic publicist, dodging from social commitment to social commitment, untethered from every aspect of her life. The two meet at a the wedding of a mutual acquiantance—Jimmy’s ex, Gretchen’s friend’s sister—and bond over a shared distaste of traditional romance. When asked what Gretchen’s heard about him, she tells Jimmy: “Nothing, just that you’re the worst.” He counteracts this claim by pointing out that she’s the one stealing gifts from a wedding. You’re The Worst hits the ground running with a one-night stand between two drunk people afraid to go home alone after said wedding. What they share is something of a marvel: switching back and forth from sex to intimately sharing horrifying and humorous experiences. “Do you know, I’m glad this is a one night thing so we can reveal all this awful shit about ourselves,” Jimmy tells Gretchen. “Totally,” she agrees.

There is an age-old saying about finding a relationship when you’re not looking for one that will drive nearly any single person up a wall, but there is (and I am sorry to admit it) a kernel of truth to it. It’s a truth that’s put to good use on You’re The Worst. Jimmy complains about the artificiality of marriage and to a bigger extent, that of dating. It’s when someone is looking for something—or more specifically, someone—that they present their best selves: their most on-time, their funniest, their smartest selves. Jimmy and Gretchen start off on the worst note. All they know is the other’s worst self. In the way that only the closest of friends know each other’s bad eating habits or terrible jokes, these two start on a level of immediate comfort and find exactly what they aren’t looking for. When they wake up the next morning, hungover, self-aware, and together, what they feel more than anything is terrified.

It’s that feeling—that somewhat paranoid self-awareness of giving oneself over to another person—that You’re The Worst nails down so perfectly. It understands that the hallmark of 21st century relationships is not 8 billion connections made but rather fear. It is scary to meet someone. It is scary to like someone. It’s scary to give yourself over to them, bit by bit, leaving yourself exposed to pain and heartbreak. Yet that fear is hilarious.

You’re The Worst structures each episode around Jimmy and Gretchen learning to conquer their fear of intimacy. Rather than cashing in on wacky miscommunications, Gretchen and Jimmy have to learn to actually communicate, and it’s not a slow build. There’s no subtlety. They hurtle, full force, from asking for seemingly trivial things (for keys, to borrow a car, to go have a nice meal out together) to making serious requests (for help, for a person to listen). The beginning of You’re The Worst’s second season (Wednesday, September 9, on FXX) furthers this premise as Jimmy and Gretchen come to terms with the move from their relationship’s honeymoon phase to the nitty-gritty, but mostly mundane, details of cohabitation.

In this way, You’re The Worst shows that modern-day relationships are less plagued by technology and more plagued by fear of giving in. 2014’s rom-sitcoms tried to capitalize on the new dating environment: Selfie, in particular, attempted to connect to its audience with its knowledge of Instagram and an immense vocabulary of buzzwords and references. For as good as the references in You’re The Worst are, it’s also proof that a television show doesn’t need to be so jargon-heavy to be relatable. It needs to show what people are like, and what young people are like in relationships is “fearful.” Every second, a new thinkpiece on the death of dating or the death of romance pops up, quick to blame social media or online dating. We don’t need to see a sitcom’s equivalent of Tinder to know they get it; we need to see its characters face the same fears we do as we tentatively swipe left or right. Exposing yourself—emotionally, that is—becomes a game of chicken. It is terrifying to be the first person to call after a date, to ask to spend the night, or to say “I love you.”

For such a young sitcom to be able to capture the honesty and humor and horror of getting to know someone is both rare and deceptively difficult. The line of tragedy and comedy is straddled with perfection. For every moment where Gretchen or Jimmy act out—they’re two adults prone to tantrums, rudeness, and immaturity—they’re also learning to be open about themselves. Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking lines in an otherwise funny show occurs at the end of the first episode, in which Jimmy calls Gretchen “nice,” and after a pause, she replies, “I am very nice” with total sincerity. It’s a fully realized moment between two humans, not two monsters, struggling to understand the types of people they are.

It’s interesting that the title of the show is You’re The Worst, as opposed to “They’re.” With one pronoun choice, the show directs itself at its audience. It’s less about Jimmy and Gretchen knowing little about the other besides that they’re “the worst” and more about the fact that we the viewers are just as bad. We’re all in this frightening world together, and we are no better or worse than the people we see on-screen (as bad as they may be). If we’re all the worst, then no one is the worst. We’re just ourselves.