When You’re the Worst began its second season with the excellent “The Sweater People,” it looked as though the show was putting its hat in the ring for best comedy on television. In the weeks since the auspicious debut, Stephen Falk’s brainchild has become anything but TV’s best comedy. It has become something far more interesting.
As has been noted, by critics and viewers alike, the half-hour comedy format is in a revolution. These shows no longer cram as many jokes as possible into their timeslot; they’ve become okay with not being funny, so long as they’re smart, poignant and emotionally resonant. I was more gutted watching Brett, on HBO’s Togetherness, drive through the California night toward his wife in a grand romantic gesture, unaware she was minutes away from finding comfort in another man, than just about anything I saw in the year’s dramas. I didn’t expect YTW to become that kind of show. In fact, I didn’t think it could. I was wrong.
“LCD Soundsystem” was not an episode for everyone. Seconds after the credits rolled, my significant other blurted that it had bored her. For me, the season’s ninth effort (and the series’ 19th overall) was exquisite. It’s true that not much happened, in terms of physical situations, but it had enormous emotional value. It was quiet and steady in a way that You’re the Worst hasn’t been before, a foreboding desperation hanging over it all. This has been Aya Cash’s season, and episode nine was another submission for the highlight reel. We’re lucky to have her in the driver’s seat; few actors could pull off Gretchen’s sudden and complex dive into drama as well.
In the episode, Gretchen is a scavenger for hope. She is at her lowest point, and Jimmy offers little in the way of support. He is as lost as Gretchen, vacillating between inappropriate attempts to cheer her up and blindness to the fact she is in pain at all. In an attempt to find an answer, Gretchen becomes obsessed with a young family that lives in their neighborhood. Through the looking glass (or in this case, the living room window), the couple (brilliant guest spots from Justin Kirk and Tara Summers) is perfect. They have great jobs, an adorable child who just got accepted into a wonderful school and delightful dog. The camera was smartly placed in Gretchen’s perspective at the start, giving the viewers an uncomfortable sense of intrusion because, as we would later find, Gretchen was doing just that. Though the half-hour did not have considerable comedic situations, it did have ample amounts of stress. I was certain Gretchen was going to steal the couple’s child, but she thankfully opted for the dog, Sandwiches, who served as Gretchen’s excuse to meet her fantasy pair. When she did, Gretchen stayed for a glass of wine in the hopes she could crack the code; figure out how these people got to be so happy. What she finds is a house with an impressive façade, but hollow interior.
In many ways Lexi and Rob exhibited the potential future Gretchen saw for she and Jimmy. The neighbors were once wild children who grew up and settled down into a seemingly happy life but, in actuality, became people unfamiliar to themselves. Rob, when he confessed his unhappiness, was lost as to how he got to this place at all. Gretchen’s explosive rant at the heart of “There Is Not Currently a Problem” was mammoth, but her realization at the end of last night’s episode, and the tears that followed, was even more effective. In a wordless moment, Cash showed Gretchen’s immense pain with no more than a few seconds and a close-up. Gretchen has been dealing with this disease her entire life, and she is exhausted. All she wants is an answer, but every attempt to find one has been a grasp at a straw. You’re the Worst is doing something much more important than being funny with its expansive breakdown of depression, and how it affects both the person and the relationship. FX was understandably squeamish about the prospect, but kudos to the network for letting Falk see his vision through. They told him to make it interesting, and he’s done that.
?It’s difficult to watch a show shift tone. There are growing pains, and You’re the Worst was not without its own. What has come on the other side, though, was well worth the journey. The FX comedy has reinvented itself and become a more artful show, one that isn’t just fun, but necessary. There are those that must be confounded by TV’s comedy rebirth with shows like Louie, Transparent and now You’re the Worst. So long as episodes like “LCD Soundsystem” are the result, I say viva la revolución.
Eric Walters is the Assistant Tech Editor for Paste and a regular contributor to the TV section. For more of his thoughts on comic book television, listen to his podcast.