[This is a review of You're the Worst season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
You're the Worst may be a romantic comedy comprised (mostly) of characters unwilling to connect with the world outside any context of themselves, but that does nothing to dampen the honeyed amiability of watching two lovers' discovery of one another. Such a distinction creates an interesting clash between the kind of show you're watching and the presumably unlikeable characters inhabiting it.
On the surface, the two parts seem irrevocably at odds with one another. This is a romantic comedy set within the confines of a corrosive and narcissistic bubble, where the push-pull of such a dynamic is threatened by the possibility of one side (or one person's oversized personality) overshadowing the other. And yet, it is in the contradiction of genuine romance somehow blossoming despite the acidic personalities on display that makes the series so appealing. Self-absorption hasn't been this funny and entertaining since Seinfeld ruled the airwaves.
In the season 2 premiere, Aya Cash and Chris Geere reprise their roles as Gretchen and Jimmy, the comedy's titular worst: two vainglorious individuals whose customary preoccupation with themselves has been thrown into chaos with the realization they have become increasingly wrapped up in one another.
Picking up where season 1 left off, the premiere, 'The Sweater People,' sees Gretchen and Jimmy working tirelessly to keep their relationship from becoming normal. Last season, creator Stephen Falk kicked this romantic comedy off with some rather explicit sex scenes – even by most cable television standards. And so, the natural progression of such a revealing debut would be to show the couple in question fighting against the urge to let convention take its course and become one of the dreaded "normies."
And what are Gretchen and Jimmy's weapons of choice in this battle against the ordinary? Why, drugs, sex, and booze of course. You're the Worst has never shied away from its depiction of sex and/or drugs (casual or otherwise), but here, Falk uses the sheer excess of the couple's campaign against normalcy (and the grueling toll it's having on them both) to poke fun not only at the irrational fear of losing the right to think of one's self as exceptional, but also at Gretchen and Jimmy's chosen methods of proving such exceptionalism.
Successive nights of carousing eventually turn into a game of chicken – as much with one another's resistance to normality as it is their own mortality. What is perhaps the funniest and most emotionally shrewd moment of the premiere sees a theoretically uneventful evening at home quickly descend into another evening of "drugs and potentially dangerous sex acts." Never before have two people been less thrilled about the possibility of diving nose first into a pile of cocaine. But Falk doesn't let the joke end on two miserable faces clinking straws before snorting their way to a morning marked by unexplained injuries, bloody noses, and a stolen DVD kiosk; he takes it a step further, pitting Gretchen and Jimmy's debauchery against the idea of time itself.
In another great scene, a gaggle of young hipsters turn their collective noses up at things like alcohol and cocaine use, which the series astutely uses to turn the tables on its leads, showing that no matter how badly you believe in your own sense of awesomeness, you're just another lame old dude to what amounts to be a walking smirk in a bad hat. The thing is, the synthetic drug peddler probably isn't much younger than Jimmy or Gretchen, but in that moment, the two have never looked or sounded older – or lamer.
As much as the episode concerns itself with the fear of being thought of as normal or, even worse, uncool, in the eyes of friends and strangers alike, 'The Sweater People' is also about the fear of never being able to recreate the spark of initial attraction. And in a way, the futility of trying to reproduce an organic moment, or prolong the sensation of it, makes this the perfect way to kickoff a second season. There is a natural inclination to see the continuation of things as somehow inferior to the moment of initiation. It's true of everything we consume, from food to media to relationships. Nothing's as good as the first time it happens, so making the season 2 premiere ostensibly about the inability to recapture or even sustain a sense of wonder is a very smart way of setting up a new season's worth of storylines.
Falk and his writers do a great job positioning their character's reticence to move forward against all the evidence of how necessary it is for them to do so. While Gretchen and Jimmy are trying to preserve a moment in perpetuity, Lindsay (the fantastic, scene-stealing Kether Donohue) is desperately trying to revive her failed marriage through an underhanded (in every sense of the word) ploy to seduce and ensnare her soon-to-be ex-husband Paul (Allan McLeod).
The only member of the quartet actively attempting to stride headlong into the future is Jimmy's permanent houseguest/unintentional manservant Edgar (the equally fantastic and scene-stealing Desmin Borges), who has moved past his somewhat static place last season as a sufferer of PTSD and found himself a proactive constituent choosing to present his feelings to Lindsay via a breakfast lasagna, and by calling her an "unfriendly, treacherous mountain" in the most affectionate way those words have ever been spoken.
Throughout the premiere, the series demonstrates it still understands how to handle a tonal shift without giving the audience whiplash. The scene between Borges and Donohue is surprisingly affective and sweet, despite ending on a used condom being surreptitiously placed in a freezer next to a bag of bagel bites. But that's where the series lives and most certainly where it excels: in allowing the actions of its characters to be outrageous, while keeping the emotional motivations and emotional responses of those same characters grounded in reality.
In the end, You're the Worst manages to be uproarious cocktail, perfectly blending the silly and the profane with emotional highs and lows that feel surprisingly authentic.
You're the Worst continues next Wednesday with 'Crevasses' @10:30pm on FXX.