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When Is It Time to Break Up With a Favorite Television Show?

  • Johnny Pemberton, left, as Max and Desmin Borges as Edgar in “You’re the Worst.” MUST CREDIT: Byron Cohen, FXX



The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 01, 2017

How do you know when you’re falling out of love vs. just hitting a rough patch? That’s a big, consequential question, but one that has been plaguing me in a decidedly lower-stakes way during this season of You’re the Worst, a comedy about a bunch of deeply messed-up Angelenos that used to be one of my favorite shows on television.

You’re the Worst has never been a nice show — I mean, read the title, folks! — but after a streak of three decidedly unpleasant episodes, I’m left pondering the question of when to break up with a TV series, even one that has given me three good years.

When the series began, You’re the Worst had an anarchic, subversive streak. Sure, music publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash) and novelist Jimmy (Chris Geere) were wildly self-absorbed and willing to use the people around them, particularly Edgar (Desmin Borges), the combat veteran with a heavy case of post-traumatic stress disorder who’d taken up residence in Jimmy’s house.

But they, and the show around them, were so charming, and the show was so visually lovely and so densely packed with good jokes that you wanted to spend time with them anyway. The people who were supposed to be “the worst” had in fact become the core of one of the best comedies about a youngish group of friends anywhere on television, a show that also happened to be sharp about depression, veterans’ issues, sexual compulsion and professional failure.

But in its fourth season, something’s flipped. You’re the Worst has acquired a moralistic streak, and not for the better. Now, rather than luring us into what would be the actual hell of being friends with this crew, You’re the Worst seems determined to punish our characters to the fullest extent possible — and to punish us for the sin of liking them.

Gretchen is in the process of sabotaging two relationships at once in the most emotionally damaging fashion possible. Jimmy has his career back on track, but in a form that makes him feel diminished, and is seeking validation from what has turned into a series of soul-destroying sexual encounters with women who either immediately regret him or relentlessly mock him.

Gretchen’s best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue) has jettisoned her old, miserable marriage with Paul and found an actual job, but she is surrounded by co-workers who hate her and is cut off from the emotional validation that served as both delusion and buoy. Paul (Allan McLeod) has found salvation — or damnation — in online men’s rights activist forums, while Lindsay’s sister Becca (Janet Varney) is marinating in alcoholism and contempt.

And Edgar, most heartbreakingly, has become a vacant, viciously unpleasant person who is chasing affirmation from his idiot of a writing partner, and is apparently capable of humiliating another veteran who served with him in Iraq and is now working a service job.

It’s hard not to see disaster, whether in the form of a major depressive episode (or even legal trouble) for a boundary-crossing Gretchen, some sort of breakdown for Jimmy and Lindsay, or penury, humiliation and a spiral back into addiction for Edgar.

I feel slightly guilty saying that this wasn’t exactly what I signed up for with You’re the Worst. The premise is obvious. And part of what took You’re the Worst from an extremely funny, emotionally sharp comedy to a genuinely impressive artistic experiment was the show’s willingness to be unfunny and to experiment with episodes that dived deep into the characters’ pathologies.

But I do think there’s a distinction between a show that’s not particularly funny — a lot of half-hour shows can no longer be accurately described as comedies — and a show that no longer feels fun to watch. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show I lionized earlier in the week, can be as caustic and scary as You’re the Worst, but it also continues to make me snort with laughter and to replay the musical numbers over and over. Even as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend appears to be sending heroine Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) toward the same sort of disaster and reckoning that the characters on You’re the Worst are approaching, it remains fully committed to being a pleasurable show in a way that You’re the Worst seems to have lost touch with.

Of course, I don’t tend to stop watching a television show all at once. As much as that might be a help given the increasingly busy schedule of any critic who covers television, You’re the Worst has been a companion too long for me to cut it off abruptly. I’ll watch through the end of the season and hope that the last several episodes have been a temporary veering off-course rather than a permanent departure from the show I once loved.

Maybe that makes me as reckless and obsessed as Gretchen, lurking outside Jimmy’s house. Unlike her, though, when this season of You’re the Worst ends, at least I’ll have a natural point at which to walk away.