FXX sitcom You’re The Worst has been often celebrated for being the anti-romcom. And while the genre has seeped its way into sitcoms via shows like How I Met Your Mother, New Girl and The Mindy Project, the way Worst acts in opposition to them is much less “anti,” and more about refusing to put a veil over the sheer ugliness that comes along with loving someone.
The show certainly deserved the neologism with its first season, during which the plot included the following: boy meet-cutes girl at his ex’s wedding because she has stolen a gift; one night stand turns into regular booty call turns into dubious cohabitation; lots of time spent with drugs, alcohol and their respective dysfunctional sidekicks.
But the transformations within You’re the Worst’s second season, which wrapped Wednesday night, have changed how we should define our concepts of “anti-romcom.” because, while its main characters Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) and Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) are still working within atypical “chick flick” behavior, the show makes being in love aspirational—not because of cosmic magic that aligns two people “meant for each other,” but because of their will to stick around after the charm is gone.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Gretchen, the publicist for a rapper loosely based on Tyler, the Creator, and Jimmy, a road-blocked novelist working on his second book but frustrated with his lack of notoriety, spend most of the first season navigating how to be together when monogamy is neither of their bags. One of the things that separates Gretchen from occupying a Katherine Heigl-style nonsense role is that her success is not accompanied by with a “desirable,” pristine existence: She will take all the drugs; she is a hoarder and she’s not really keen to acknowledge it. And she’s not the Leslie Knope, adorable, too-many-birdhouses kind of hoarder; she’s the weeks-old-pizza box-in-the-fridge, Hitachi Magic Wand-plugged-into-Christmas lights-in-the-living-room kind of mess. However, this isn’t Rebecca Romijn’s cameo on Friends, finding humor in the dichotomy of a smart babe being a total slob. Gretchen’s mess, so to speak, wasn’t a gag; it foretold a major plot shift in the second season.
After Jimmy and Gretchen agree she’ll move into his Silver Lake home (where he lives with ex-weed dealer and veteran Edgar, who has a bevy of his own emotional problems), You’re The Worst continued to mimic its endearing formula from season one: Gretchen and Jimmy worry they will become boring, so they push themselves beyond their limits with cocaine and booze before stealing an ersatz Google Earth mobile; Gretchen’s best friend Lindsay, who has been left by her husband for another woman, begins selling Tinder dudes’ dick pics to a gay porn site and manipulating Edgar’s interest in her for the attention she’s seeking; Edgar uses improv comedy class for restorative healing. See! Everyone is the worst! Haha la la la, these people are terrible, but all have functional relationships with each other for our entertainment.
And then in the middle of the season, Gretchen’s comedic dysfunction stopped being so funny. After a cocktail-fueled breakdown where she berates everyone in the house—including Vernon, who is married to Lindsay’s sister Becca... whose wedding is where Gretchen and Jimmy meet... and is later revealed to be deeply in debt to a findomme—Gretchen reveals to Jimmy that she suffers from clinical depression. Attempting to “deal” with her struggles, Jimmy thinks that if he can recreate her favorite activities, she’ll just snap out of it—until his coping becomes more nefarious.
It was a plot shift that gave viewers a new reason to call You’re the Worst brilliant—instead of romanticizing a modern, metropolitan, and frankly very normal relationship, it delivered a nuanced portrayal of what dealing with depression is like without being maudlin or overdramatic. Cash’s “I feel nothing”-isms did not reflect the lolsigh of a typical sitcom “down period.” The show’s creator Stephen Falk (who has written for Weeds and Orange Is The New Black) never sensationalizes it—it just is.
Ultimately, Gretchen’s depression doubles down on You’re The Worst’s anti-romcominess—but not because it dismantles the notion that perfect people can find perfect solutions to minor problems and everything is just perfect, perfect, perfect. Instead, it shirks that whole idea and aims to live in the real world where two people who are in love stare life’s pratfalls and traumas in the face and stay together in spite of these things. It shows that to really be in a relationship with someone, you have to unleash the real you—the you that we’re often too terrified to reveal to anyone except, perhaps, your therapist. (But even then, we still try to save face a little bit.) You’re the Worst knows shit gets real, that people get bored with one another or find superficial reasons to be with someone else, that you’re an idiot if you think one fight means a breakup. In turn, its realism paints a far more aspirational love story than anything Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan have ever sold us.
Claire Lobenfeld is a music and culture writer living in New York.