Monday, August 18, 2014

Offering a mea culpa on You're the Worst

Every critic has reviews where they feel like they were off base or that their words didn't do a good job of reflecting how they actually felt about something.  In that regard, I'm certainly no different.  In my year and a half of writing this blog, I've written some reviews that I don't necessarily stand by anymore: my Star Trek Into Darkness review, which reads like a B when I thought the movie was a C-; my negative review of Earl Sweatshirt's Doris, an album I later grew to really enjoy; and my pilot review of Halt and Catch Firea show that later stumbled in a way that didn't reflect an A-.  It looks like I might have another one on my hands with You're the Worst, one of FX's two new summer comedies.  I gave the pilot a C-, but I wonder if my judgment of the previews got in the way of reviewing the actual show, because I've become quite a fan of it.

Part of the reason why I've warmed up to the show is that it has softened the edges of the two leads, Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Beere).  My biggest complaint about the pilot was that Gretchen and Jimmy were so unlikable, and in a way that made them uninteresting and not enjoyable to watch.  Now, they still say and do horrible things, but there's less of a wink-wink, "ain't I a stinker?" air to it.  Plus, it doesn't hurt that the jokes have gotten better.  Showrunner Stephen Falk and his crew of writers have been gradually delivering stronger scripts with sharp, biting humor.  It's much easier to stomach the antipathetic nature of the characters when you're laughing along with them.

The show takes place in Los Angeles, and it's really about the city in a low-key way.  It populates the world with weirdos and people who are just as terrible as Gretchen and Jimmy, contrasting the bright prettiness of the city with the off-color people who inhabit it.  Even Gretchen and Jimmy's jobs -- she's a PR executive, he's a failing novelist -- feel very Hollywood.  You're the Worst uses these professions to have its leads come into contact with the colorful characters of Los Angeles, like the rapper that Gretchen is representing.  He's a clear Tyler the Creator analogue, complete with a skateboarding, cargo short wearing crew of lackeys, and he's just as obnoxious.  The show's fourth episode, "What Normal People Do," perfectly skewers Hollywood with Edgar's (Desmin Borges) storyline, where he initially thinks he's met other war veterans, only to eventually discover that they're just actors who are studying him for an upcoming movie.

Edgar, who is Jimmy's roommate and best friend, along with Gretchen's best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue), round out the show's small cast.  Though it may be limiting, having only two supporting characters has allowed the writers to flesh Edgar and Lindsay out in a short amount of time.  The first few episodes featured them solely bouncing off of Jimmy and Gretchen, but the most recent couple have shown that they're able to hold their own in individual storylines.  In the process, they've actually revealed themselves to be the heart and soul of the show.  The writers have done an excellent job of handling Edgar's past wartime activity, making his PTSD quietly sad, but not depressing enough to throw off the tone of the show.  Meanwhile, Lindsay's marital problems and self-esteem issues are fertile material for them to explore in the future.

Despite its title and my initial criticisms, You're the Worst is one of the sweetest comedies on television.  Gretchen and Jimmy are slowly coming to grips with the fact that they actually genuinely like each other, despite his hatred and her fear of commitment.  First, their pairing appeared to be a union of two people whom nobody else wanted, but now it's transforming into them being together because they truly want each other.  They're beginning to compromise on their hard-hearted beliefs, subtly making each other better, kinder people.  It's a surprising joy to watch.

Like Married, the new show that airs before it, You're Worst still feels a little bit too shaggy and small.  Yet there's also something charming about its ragged nature.  I was watching with the wrong lens at first, and now that I've adapted to the rhythms of the show, I can see that the pilot was pretty solid.  And it's only gotten better, funnier, and more assured in the past few weeks.  The cast is great, the jokes are strong, and the heart is there.  If it keeps improving at this rate, You're the Worst could become one of TV's best comedies.

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