Smack in the middle of their first sexual encounter in the amusing new FX comedy “You’re the Worst,” Gretchen says to Jimmy, “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m not even attracted to you.” All insouciance, she is chomping on gum and there is a slight but distinct sneer on her upper lip. His uninterested response as their bodies move together: “What does that have to do with anything?”
Yup, it’s true love. We know that within five minutes of the show’s premiere, Thursday at 10:30 p.m., even if the fact hasn’t quite made it to the surface of their consciousness.
In the language of TV comedy, teasing and insulting often means a romantic attraction, as the parties defend themselves with barbs against emerging feelings of vulnerability and the fear of rejection. Shakespeare immortalized that kind of mating dance in “Much Ado About Nothing,” by showing the scorn-filled wit between Beatrice and Benedick evolve into love. We can see that Getchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) are exactly that kind of couple, that their knife-throwing is a classic form of flirtation.
Of course, they are Beatrice and Benedick FX-style, which mean that they’re often making their much ado while wearing nothing.
The broad cynicism that they share is what makes “You’re the Worst” a lot of fun. They tangle endlessly with each other but they’re also thick as thieves when it comes to proudly sharing stories of their bad behavior. Confessing their worst sins to each other is their version of intimacy. In episode two, Gretchen, who works in PR, admits to Jimmy that she lied and told the Spice Girls she had brain cancer in order to get free concert tickets. “Dishonesty to spare someone’s feelings belittles everyone involved,” Jimmy says with his crooked philosophical bent. “Dishonesty to get free stuff is just smart economics.” They’re on the same page when it comes to immorality.
We know the end point for these two; they’re made for each other. But the writing makes the bumpy journey nonetheless entertaining. “You’re the Worst” was created by Stephen Falk (“Orange Is the New Black”) with a clear sense that Gretchen and Jimmy’s repartee needs to be sharp, louche, and, ultimately, a bit of a front. Cash is just right as Gretchen. She lets you catch glimpses of Gretchen’s heart, but she plays the tough chick with gusto. As Jimmy, Geere, who is British, is annoying and whiny — which is a great setup for his hidden sweet side, which we see when he befriends a neighborhood kid.
Falk has added in a pair of best friends, and chosen wisely. Gretchen’s friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue) is just like her; they stand sampling frozen yogurt flavors until they’re full, then leave the store without buying anything. Lindsay, who is constantly insulting her husband, is a small side show, at least in the first two episodes. But Jimmy’s friend and roommate, Edgar (Desmin Borges), brings a more poignant touch to the series. On the one hand, he is a Ross from “Friends” type who can banter with Jimmy about the true meaning of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” One the other hand, he is Jimmy’s balance, a guy who served in Iraq, struggles with PTSD, and knows what we know — that Jimmy and Gretchen belong together.
He understands that, despite their neuroses, these two awful people share something beautiful.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.