For those of you who don’t know me, I should probably go ahead and let you know one thing: I have anxiety. Not the nerves-before-a-piano-recital anxiety. The diagnosable kind, with medicine and therapists and rollercoaster sex drives. It’s steamrolled relationships and vacations, Tuesdays and holidays. It’s complicated and frustrating and like any mental illness, it’s more common than you’d think. I don’t really get a chance to watch anyone else deal with it, and certainly not on a television comedy.
There may be the occasional drama that touches on depression or anxiety or maybe even bipolar disorder (thank you Friday Night Lights), but dramas are supposed to do things like that. They’re dramatic, and while it’s nice to see representation in televised dramas, it doesn’t exactly help you feel like your condition is a normal part of life.
It’s refreshing to see comedies venturing into these conversations. Comedies like Transparent, Atlanta and Speechless are using comedy to say serious things, hearkening back to Neil Simon’s famous phrase: “Everything funny is also sad.” And few comedies today are saying sadder things than FX’s You’re the Worst. It uses depression as a major plot point and portraying it with visceral, devastating aptitude.
The show, which just got renewed for a fourth season, has managed to do something I’ve never seen done in any other comedy on television. It has made depression a real part of an on-screen romance and somehow captures the challenges and heartbreak of it with some impressive clarity. I have found myself laughing out loud in the same episodes that I am crying, and perhaps it’s because it’s just that good (it is), but it’s likely because I see way too much of myself in the main character Gretchen.
The show’s premise isn’t actually your totally typical sitcom romance. In season one, Gretchen and Jimmy meet at a wedding, where the show is quickly set up to be a sort of friends-with-benefits situation. You assume they will smoke their cigarette, have some casual sex, end up actually liking each other and then things get complicated. And sure, that’s sort of what happens.
But, the show is also set up upon the premise (BIG CONNECTION TO THE TITLE HERE) that Gretchen and Jimmy really aren’t great people. They drink a lot, they do some drugs, they’re mostly shitty friends, their careers are stagnant, they steal wedding gifts and put their names on them, they say mean things to each other, etc. They’re a little blasé, a little jaded, and a lot fucked up. They’re not the kind of characters you really aspire to be, although they’re definitely the characters that we are. Predictably enough, Gretchen and Jimmy start dating — essentially by default despite the fact that neither of them wants to be in a relationship. Perhaps more unpredictably, they end up moving in together at the end of season one when Gretchen burns down her apartment by leaving her vibrator plugged into a bunch of Christmas lights. The season ends with them staring off into space clearly wondering: What the fuck have we done?
And in season two, Gretchen’s depression kicks in full force. “So here’s an interesting thing that you don’t know about me,” she tells Jimmy. “I am clinically depressed. It’s been going on my whole life so I’m actually really good at handling it. It strikes me whenever and I have no idea why, but it’s fine. I’m sorry i never told you. It slipped my mind. Who knows? With the right attitude this could be a really fun adventure for everyone. The only thing i need from you is to not make a big deal of it and be okay with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me.”
Several episodes into the season, she goes numb. She does not get out of her pajamas. She stares out of the window for hours. She follows around her aspirational neighbors whose lives she is transfixed by, only to find that they too are pretty fucked up. She tries to snap out of it with booze and adderall and cocaine. She pulls a gun on someone. She lays in bed, and she doesn’t eat and she doesn’t have sex. She is not season one Gretchen, who is cavalier and funny and confident and engaging and reckless.
She is suddenly and simply put: depressed. Truly, deeply depressed. Nothing happens; it’s not situational. She is someone who suffers from clinical depression. And like the tide of anxiety that has swept over me so many times in my life for no reason, Gretchen’s depression swallows her whole, leaving her in a new relationship with a guy who has no idea what to do.
And this is where the show breaks ground, surpassing all of the other TV sitcoms that fumbled through serious topics with heavy, clumsy hands. When Gretchen slips into the coma that is depression, the show continues on as a comedy, with Jimmy, his roommate Edgar and Gretchen’s good friend Lindsey picking up the comedic relief, trying to “fix” Gretchen while carrying on with their everyday lives. Gretchen tells Jimmy that this is who she is, and he does not have to deal with it, and he does not know how to deal with this, and this breaks them both right in half just like it would in real life. “Everyday you think things are going to be different and I’ll just be happy,” she tells him. “But maybe you can understand this: I feel NOTHING. About ANYTHING. Dogs, candy, old Blondie records, nachos, you, us, nothing. So for the last time, please go.”
And he almost does go out to meet a girl at a bar, but instead chooses to build a pillow fort, lie down next to her and let her cry next to him for hours, and it is so realistic and so gut-wrenchingly beautiful to see a funny, smart and beautiful character battle a very real other half of herself that so many of us have battled in our own lives and in our own relationships. And so often, the guy does not come back and build the pillow fort — in the sitcom or in real life. Most of the guys I dated throughout my life were not built to handle the amount of unreasonable worry I brought into their lives, and even now I feel the need to apologize to my husband when I am crying on the floor or staring aimlessly through the blinds, feeling nothing.
You’re The Worst has brought a gorgeous (literally and figuratively) new face to depression and how it complicates our relationships, and it’s managed to do so while still reminding us that despite that darkest and deepest pits of life, it can still be pretty funny. And not everyone will build a blanket fort with us in the living room when we’re spiraling off the deep end, but if you find someone who will, well, they’re probably not the worst.