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A Farewell to ‘You’re the Worst’: The End of Television’s Greatest Romantic Comedy

After five seasons and 61 episodes, You’re the Worst concludes tonight with the series finale, “Pancakes”, marking the end of television’s greatest romantic comedy. But when the Sunday Funday crew take their final bow in the series finale (written and directed by series creator Stephen Falk), You’re the Worst‘s small, dedicated audience will say farewell to something much rarer in the television landscape: an honest portrayal of the pursuit of happiness, and why the “good” emotions of life are often the most unsatisfying.

Relatively speaking, falling in love with someone is relatively easy: a couple shared values and a good fuck is all it takes to spark the deepest, most passionate romantic notions in humans, connections that people build entire lives on – but moments of love do not make a life of happiness, something You’re the Worst observed in a number of different, equally brilliant ways. Being able to love yourself is the much, much harder path to true happiness – but how does one actually achieve that? Viewed through the prism of seven noxious adults experiencing crises of identity, You’re the Worst searched for the deeper existential truths about life through its comedy – and in the process, became one of the most moving, important shows about the human condition.

When the Sunday Funday crew take their final bow, You’re the Worst‘s audience will say farewell to an honest portrayal about the pursuit of happiness, and why the “good” emotions of life can often be the most unsatisfying.

Sound hyperbolic? Look at episodes like season one’s “PTSD” or season two’s “LCD Soundsystem”, and you can see You’re the Worst‘s ambitions to explore the harshest truths about life, and just how goddamn hard it is to be ‘happy’. In “PTSD”, You’re the Worst spends an entire episode focused on Edgar’s attempts to treat the disorders he developed from the horrors of war, observing how the world views a man struggling with mental illness; in it, we see a man who has sacrificed everything for his country, receive absolutely nothing in return for his sacrifice (drawing parallels to everything from unrequited love to the lack of empathy that defines America’s modern institutions).

Edgar, perhaps the show’s most tragic character, spends the entire first half of the series trying to deal with his internal scars; like all characters on You’re the Worst, Edgar’s past haunted him to the point it changed the very definition of who he was. This would prove to be an important thematic bedrock for You’re the Worst to build on through the series, be it Gretchen’s depression (or in this fifth season, her mother), Paul’s post-divorce foray into men’s rights activism, or Jimmy discovering his entire identity was built as a challenge to his estranged (now deceased) father.

“LCD Soundsystem” took a different path to explore similar ideas: in it, Gretchen sees what her life might look like in a decade, if she and Jimmy were to settle down and start a family. The very idea of stability frightens her, shattering her already fragile mental state; whether she thinks it is a life she doesn’t want or a life she doesn’t deserve, isn’t clear, and doesn’t matter: Gretchen’s true fear is comprehending a life so stable it becomes boring, a compromise of values, goals, and emotions, that can be as soul-crushing as it is reinforcing. Like everyone in life, Gretchen is nearly consumed by the horrifying potential of “what if’s”; and because of that, her spiraling depression only deepens when she turns to Jimmy to provide answers he himself is ill-equipped to answer.

After all, embracing yourself, no matter how flawed and challenging that may be, is the only way to quiet out the mental noise that threatens every relationship, opportunity, and conflict in our lives. It seems a cliche platitude, to love oneself, but it is fundamentally true that acceptance of self, no matter how flawed or broken, is the essential first step to happiness. Until then, we’re just letting the universe determine who we are, objects hardened by the inherent chaos of existence – as Gretchen learns when examining that philosophy of life in season four, there’s nothing to that path but an empty life.

In that vein, some may view the Boone arc in season four as You’re the Worst‘s weakest, but it is quietly one of its most important. When Gretchen has to contend with becoming a surrogate mother to Boone’s daughter, the facade of her commitment to Boone reveals Gretchen’s avoidance of something she believes to be true about herself; that nobody will accept her for who she is, that everyone will always abandon her in the end. It’s not until Gretchen realizes this fear of rejection includes herself, that she can find peace in the uncertainty of her future; in finally taking authorship over her own journey and sense of self-worth, Gretchen begins the slow, difficult process of self-realization she’s struggled with this entire fifth season.

You’re the Worst makes no qualms about how difficult it is to become, and accept, who we are; it takes Jimmy two decades to embrace his inner erotic novelist, while Lindsay continues bouncing between careers and identities, even in these final episodes – and of course, Gretchen’s aforementioned descent into herself, taking two steps back with every difficult step forward this season. Trying to do so in the 21st century only makes this journey more difficult: from hipsters to dating apps, to the commercialization of Sunday Funday and the horror of improv comedy, You’re the Worst firmly grounded itself in the 21st century, an observation of the new onslaught of social obstacles in the way of self-acceptance, and finding love in strange times.

Love always proved to be the greatest conundrum for You’re the Worst, the one truly unanswered question at its horny, yet reflective, core: while You’re the Worst certainly believes in the power of emotional and physical connection with another human, it is rather non committal about the actual value of loving someone (like Jimmy and Gretchen’s lists about each other in “The Inherent, Unsullied Qualitative Value of Anything”). Like mental stability or the pursuit of happiness, You’re the Worst suggests love itself may actually be the worst, something that happens in the fleeting moments between the regular rhythms of everyday life, a collection of minutes throughout our brief existence where the mundanity and repetition is superseded by something beautiful and revelatory – that then defines and fortifies the path of our entire lives, no matter how right or wrong that moment, that single chemical reaction directed towards another, might be.

While we let those moments act as anchors to self-definition, it is every shitty, messy moment in between that truly reveals our desires, our needs, our wants – and ultimately, how we feel about ourselves, the most difficult barrier to true happiness. And that’s where You’re the Worst found its genius, combining its sharp writing with the show’s strong performances – led, of course, by Aya Cash’s portrayal of Gretchen, one of the rawest, most powerful performances of this decade. On a show full of impressive character work (please find me a more consistently awesome core cast than You’re the Worst), Cash’s Gretchen is perhaps my favorite character of the Peak TV era, a character whose complexity is captured so beautifully through Cash’s performance, a literal master class in comedic delivery, dramatic subtlety, and devastating honesty.

You’re the Worst will most likely conclude with Jimmy and Gretchen breaking up; after all, this season’s flash-forwards have gone out of their way to suggest it doesn’t end in a happy wedding and marriage for the show’s two protagonists. But that might be the happiest ending it could have; it certainly doesn’t disqualify You’re the Worst’s rightful place as the greatest romantic comedy of our time. A messy, imperfect portrayal of a beautiful, toxic relationship between two utter narcissists and their friends, You’re the Worst was a memorable, sometimes heart wrenching exploration of life’s most challenging truths, a show full of lovable misfits I’ll miss dearly.

Written By

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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