September 9, 2015, 10:30 p.m. (EST), FXX
There’s a pervasive theory in television fandom that the worst thing that can happen to a series is getting its central couple together. This is wrongheaded at best (many of the greatest TV shows of all time cannily sidestep any issues with this, not the least among them Cheers, which basically invented the will-they-won’t-they, and which got its central couple together at the end of the first of its eleven seasons), but its certainly the wrong way to approach a show like You’re the Worst, which not only never hid the ball with respect to its intentions, but is fundamentally about the experience for Gretchen and Jimmy of wanting to be in, and to stay in, a relationship.
So it doesn’t present a large problem for the show that Gretchen and Jimmy now live together. Yet it does present a large problem for both Gretchen and Jimmy, flying against their own perceptions of themselves and endangering the perceptions they hope the other has of them. “The Sweater People” tackles those issues head on, as both Gretchen and Jimmy struggle against the reality of their relatively safe and stable long term relationship by raging against the dying of their false conceptions of themselves and each other. In reality, Jimmy wants to read his book, and Gretchen wants a solid nine hours of sleep. But both are so entrenched in their façade, and both are so afraid of disappointing the other, that they go to the absurd lengths of cocaine and butt stuff just to ensure the other thinks they are cool. Basically, they love each other, and they’re idiots. That’s You’re the Worst in a nutshell, and “The Sweater People” shows that this basic dynamic won’t go away, even as the show and its characters evolve.
That opening sequence, where a drunk and drugged up Gretchen and Jimmy riff on “head wigglies” and the House Party series while abusing poor Edgar, who just wants to get some sleep, is a near-perfect reintroduction to the series. It simultaneously reminds us of the caustic nature of the main characters, and of their undeniable chemistry, all while situating us in the episode’s story about a bender both are too afraid to end. The episode subtly keeps steering the two towards the obvious conclusions, whether its Jimmy moving Gretchen’s mug onto a coaster, the cell-reception indicating the two should get a family plan, or the relative ease and relaxation hinted at in their quickly abandoned quiet night in. They both know it too, and that is what terrifies them. The concept that gives the episode its title keeps the two from wanting to approach some semblance of normal settling down. They are terrified of becoming a boring couple, and so they go to further and further lengths to avoid the things they actually really want. It’s a classic sitcom set up of elevation, seen through the prism of commitment phobia and twenty-first century tensions about domesticity. It’s what this show has always done well, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see it arrive as assuredly as it does in season two.
You’re the Worst is ultimately about the ways we hide our core insecurities behind shrouds of sarcasm and faux cynicism, about the ways we disclaim any sense of optimism as a way to shield ourselves from admitting that we hope, and thus that we are capable of being disappointed. It’s an inherently defensive posture, and one that is antithetical to actually being in a relationship that is even remotely functional. To be in a relationship, we would need to open up, to express our wants, and thus to reveal our vulnerabilities. Wanting something is weakness, in a sense, because it allows the world to deny it to you. Wanting something from another person is worse, because no one really exists the way they do in your head. No one will understand you exactly the way you want to be understood, and no one will fail to disappoint you if you let them in enough. Better to keep the walls up high. It’s impossible, after all, to be disappointed if you truly don’t care.
Of course, Gretchen and Jimmy do care. We all care. That’s the point this show makes, and elegantly by sneaking it in the back door (and not just via butt stuff), hidden behind layers of hilariously dark jokes and constantly undercut moments of genuine honesty. You’re the Worst is one of the most candid shows on television, but it’s candid in a way that comports with its central characters. This is a show about yearnings we all feel, and it engages with them openly and honestly. It just also tries to hide its deep and often painful truths behind jokes about handjobs, Google maps, and stolen DVD kiosks.
For a relationship to work, there is a necessary compromise of the self that must occur. It’s not as bad as it sounds, not really. It just involves being open to being hurt, and being open to not always getting exactly what you want. It means sacrificing your own wants for the needs of another, as Edgar explains to Lindsay in their very sweet subplot. This isn’t something that Gretchen and Jimmy hate, deep down. It’s something that they fear, something it is easier to keep at arms’ length. But for all of their callowness and cowardice, the story of You’re the Worst is a story of bravery. It’s fundamentally about these people overcoming their worst natures, facing their fears, and trying to get what they want out of the world and each other, even at the risk of pain and rejection. It’s about trying when all of your experiences have taught you its better to do anything else. That “The Sweater People” is also riotously funny is just further evidence that You’re the Worst is back, and still one of the best shows on television.
- “You have very silly things in your vocabulary as well.” “Like what?” “American exceptionalism.” “Nice! Former colony burn!”
- “Edgar, do you really have a job?” “Yes! I wipe down machines and I monitor the men’s showers for…for roughhousing…”
- “What’s the address here?” “You don’t know the address? You live here!” “So, who knows their address?” “People! Kidnapped children! This dog I saw on Dateline who rides the bus to the park…”
- “I’m naked all the time, ass-ing everything…”
- “Are you a little born yesterday diaper face?”
- “And the next thing we knew I was calling him ‘The Hubs’ and he could only finish in my hand.” “What?”
- “While I’m here, my friend has a problem. “Is it you?” “No, it’s my friend Gabriel from work.” “You don’t have friends. Is it you?”
- “I didn’t know it was a school…”
- “Cool! Let’s add cocaine to the butt stuff…”
- “Are you yawning?” “I’m just excited for our night of drugs and potentially dangerous sex acts.”
- “Do you even know what love means?” “Yeah, it’s like, ‘Hey, I love you, smooch smooch, now go make me some bagel bites.’”
- “You think I’m an unfriendly, treacherous mountain?” “And I think Paul couldn’t hack it.”
- “But what if only sweater people secretly fear becoming sweater people? Like how homophobes secretly want all the dicks in their mouths?”
- “So we’ll just stick to clear liquors?”
Basically, they love each other, and they're idiots. That’s You’re the Worst in a nutshell, and “The Sweater People” shows that this basic dynamic won’t go away, even as the show and its characters evolve.