All You Need is Love?

Confession time: I binged the entire first season of You’re the Worst in one sitting the other day. No regrets, because it is an amazing show. It is also, to my surprise, one of the most romantic shows I have ever seen. I don’t mean candlelit dinners and grand thoughtful gestures. I mean that this show believes in the idea of “Love” in a way that very few other shows, movies, and people are willing to commit to.

It’s not immediately obvious from the set-up that it’s going to be a hopelessly romantic type of show. It clothes itself as a kind of anti-romcom, following the exploits of Jimmy, an opinionated narcissistic ego monster, and Gretchen, a judgmental self-destructive slacker. They meet, they sleep together, they decide to continue with the arrangement because they feel comfortable sharing their terribleness with each other, but they make it very clear that this can never develop into a relationship. It’s a pretty standard sitcom premise, but with the twist that these characters are deeply unlikable. They yell at strangers, they avoid anything resembling work, they are blind to their faults, and they take for granted the only people in their lives that care about them. So what keeps us watching? Why do we want to spend more time with these deeply shitty people? Why did I sit on my couch for five hours straight watching this show?

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Because it is a deeply, hopelessly romantic show. The show, by which I mean creator Stephen Falk, wants us to believe in love so badly, that he presents us with this extreme situation and asks this question: does one terrible person plus another terrible person equal two really terrible people? Or can Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship be the catalyst for them to improve their lives, learn to care and connect, and generally stop being the worst? The tension in the series stems from this question, and Falk makes a very convincing, understated argument that these two people would be much improved if they could just fall in love. Love is not a neutral thing; it’s a force that changes us for the better.

Falk makes it clear that many of Jimmy and Gretchen’s problems have roots in past relationships where ‘love’ was twisted into something manipulative and painful. You’re The Worst has plenty of examples of toxic relationships, but you’d be hard pressed to call any of them ‘love.’ The two married couples in the first season, Becca/Vernon and Lindsay/Paul, are examples of something masquerading as love, whether it’s convenience, spite, or just inertia. Gretchen’s relationship with her parents is a forced love that continues more out of fear than feeling. Jimmy’s most recent girlfriend was opportunistic and broke his heart, and his father is disappointed in his decisions and withholds love from him. It makes perfect sense for these characters to mistrust the very idea of love, but as the show goes on, they begin to find something with each other that they didn’t really know existed: an accepting, understanding, caring person that likes them for who they are.

It’s not love yet, but it could be, maybe. And that’s the great irony of this show. The two characters that are the absolute worst when we meet them might actually be the closest to finding real love. And we are rooting for them to find it, because it seems like it might be their only hope.

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