When You’re the Worst first premiered, it was one of the most talked about new series.
Everyone was enamored with the original show about two fundamentally unlikable humans falling in love — and rightly so. The casting was perfection and the show made you fall in love with these characters, despite them being despicable human beings.
Over the years, You’re The Worst has somehow fallen off the radar as newer, shinier shows kept appearing. (This is the golden age of television after all).
But in five seasons, You’re The Worst has never wavered in terms of quality and story. It’s even tackled difficult, messy issues like depression, PTSD, and abortion.
Perhaps what makes You’re The Worst so unique is that it’s never shied away from the ugliness of life. Unlike so many other shows, it never felt the need to take difficult issues and make them pretty.
This is never more evident than with Gretchen’s depression. Many shows have attempted to tackle mental health recently, but almost none have shown the true debilitating nature of the illness (with the sole exception of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
Gretchen’s depression is revealed slowly in season 2. The audience is first introduced to her illness with scenes of Gretchen sneaking away to cry in her car in the middle of the night.
Within the next few episodes, Gretchen quickly declines. Perhaps the most poignant episode is the one in which Gretchen spends the entire day motionless and silent on a bench in their house. Her friends come by one-by-one to try and “snap her out of it” but the illness has completely taken over.
Depression can be completely paralyzing and I can’t point to another modern show that so accurately portrays that aspect of the disease.
On top of depression, You’re The Worst was also quick to take on the extremely complex issue of PTSD. For a while, the show merely made passing comments about Edgars struggles — Jimmy would mention how Edgar screams out in his sleep, “I didn’t know it was a school!”; Edgar would try to bring up his traumatic war stories only to be silenced by the group.
But it isn’t until Edgar’s solo episode that we really got a true representation of what Edgar goes through. The episode actually repeats the previous episode’s events, this time from Edgar’s point of view.
We see Edgar up all night, completely wired. We watch as Edgar’s paranoia takes over his life — on an early morning run, in the grocery, everywhere. Various sounds are louder and scarier, regular objects appear more threatening.
The saddest part of all, of course, is Edgar’s visit to the VA, where they tell him they can’t help him. We watch as Edgar erupts in anger, and then in sadness. It was his last chance to get help.
On top of this, You’re the Worst has also maintained unmistakable feminist themes, despite the show never flaunting themselves as “feminist.”
The best example is Lindsay’s abortion. After deciding to split with her husband Paul (yet again) she decides to get an abortion. But the whole event is completely casual — she doesn’t even invite Gretchen to come into the clinic with her.
She only has a moment of reluctance, but it has nothing to do with the abortion itself. And once it’s over, she and Gretchen go out to eat and it’s like the abortion never happened.
So often abortion is portrayed as this “tough decision” for women, something they agonize over. This is certainly true for some women, but it’s not true for all women. For some, abortion is a no-brainer, a non-entity, a mere doctor’s visit.
And then there’s Gretchen herself. We so often talk about unlikeable women as a growing theme on television (think Selina Meyer), but few can compare to Gretchen.
In short, she’s a complete asshole. She’s selfish, self-centered, rude, and inconsiderate — all the things women “shouldn’t” be. (Lindsay is equally horrible, although significantly stupider.)
And yet you care about both women. You’re whole-heartedly invested in their story. Because despite their obvious flaws, they’re complex, full characters. At moments, they can each be vulnerable and emotional. They’re human.
Just having characters like these women is an act of rebellion in itself. Because women aren’t supposed to be jerks. They can be bitches, sure, but never straight-out jerks. That characterization seems to be solely reserved for men. And yet Gretchen is the equal to Jimmy (a notorious jerk himself) in every way.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention You’re the Worst‘s flaws at this point because, like the characters, the show isn’t perfect. 90% of the characters are white, heterosexual, and upper-middle class. (The only black characters are stereotypical rappers.) Diversity is definitely not its strong suit.
But no show can be everything. And You’re the Worst’s imperfections certainly don’t erase all the good things it’s done.
The end of You’re the Worst marks the end of a great contribution to television. It will certainly be hard to replace but I can only hope it’s laid the groundwork for more complex, unlikeable female characters to come.