Nat Faxon and Chris Geere, the male leads on FX’s new not-so-romantic comedies Married and You’re The Worst, both share an expression—mouth agape, squinted eyes—that conveys exasperation with the world around them. Faxon’s is a dejected misunderstanding of why he keeps getting kicked in the gut over and over again, while Geere’s is more of a constant astonishment that everyone else is so astoundingly stupid. Those expressions, with such different meanings, also characterize their respective shows.
Married and You’re The Worst are portraits of love snapped at different times. Married seeks to take the sheen off the happily ever after with a couple shellshocked by real life. You’re The Worst looks at the beginnings of a relationship where both purposefully terrible participants are dealing with their own forms of romantically induced PTSD. Both shows are twists on classic tropes—the family comedy and the meet-cute relationship story—twisted in their own ways, much like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is a fucked-up take on the friends-hanging-out-in-a-bar scenario. Neither inspires the warm and fuzzy feelings of other entries in the rom-com genre. In fact, the shows work to hard to achieve the opposite. But each has their own moments of sweetness peeking through the bleakness, which makes both Married and You’re The Worst worth watching.
Married stars Faxon (of the dearly departed Ben And Kate) and Judy Greer (who brought a quiet sadness to her small role in The Descendants, co-written by Faxon) as a married couple with three young girls. Faxon’s on-screen presence has largely been confined to playing slacker-idiots with enough ego that they don’t see anything wrong with their behavior, and he’s quite good at it. Married gives the actor the opportunity to branch out, allowing him to play what feels like a real person for the first time. Rather than use the previously mentioned expression to convey affable stupidity, Faxon employs it to demonstrate frustration, borne of a man who sleeps on the couch because his wife won’t let him masturbate in bed.
Greer’s character, on the other hand, is Married’s potential disaster area. The actress’ track record is auspicious, but the reputation of the nagging sitcom wife is not so positive. But haranguing is not the only character trait for Greer’s Lina: Just as Faxon’s Russ is often adrift in adulthood, so is Lina. The show tends to keeps its focus on Russ, but Lina is never the shrill harpy that hampers the comedic potential of Claire Dunphy and countless sitcom moms. It’s all brought together by the easy chemistry between Faxon and Greer, in which looks of exasperation common to any sitcom are undercut by looks of true affection. “I just hate you,” Lina says to Russ, before pausing and pivoting. She looks at her husband fondly. “I don’t really hate you. I just hate my life and my life is you.” “Is this foreplay?” Russ responds. “Duh,” Lina replies.
Married smartly expands its ensemble to include Russ’ friends, each of whom make their own important contributions. Brett Gelman and John Hodgman each represent two points in a marriage, divorced and happily coupled, respectively. But the standout is Jenny Slate, whose character’s life is in flux. She “married the sugar daddy who ran out of sugar,” referring to her once rich, older husband (Paul Reiser). Slate marries the qualities of her broader characters (like Parks And Recreation’s Mona Lisa Saperstein) with the pathos and sadness of Obvious Child’s Donna. Slate and Gelman bring a melancholy to Married, offering a counterpoint to what Russ and Lina have. They may not be perfect, but at least they don’t hate each other.
You’re The Worst is more solidly rooted in the jaundiced POV of its central couple. The first time Jimmy (Chris Geere) appears on-screen, he’s at his ex’s wedding, taking a dick pic on a souvenir camera. Later, he tells off the bride. Gretchen (Aya Cash) behaves equally as poorly, admitting that she got crabs from her guidance counselor and confessing that she torched her high school in order to get out of a math test. Neither wants a relationship (she’s scared shitless, he doesn’t believe in the concept), meaning they are inevitably meant for each other. Cash and Geere pull off unlikable well: Their characters are terrible people, but at least if they’re together (in rather sexually explicit ways), they won’t make anyone else miserable.
While the Married ensemble gives the show depth, the people populating You’re The Worst are some of the show’s weaker aspects. Jimmy and Gretchen are awful in the sense that they are cynical and selfish—rather than cartoonish and sociopathic—but their friends are broader caricatures. Jimmy lives with spacey veteran Edgar (Desmin Borges) and mistakenly befriends a neighborhood boy (Shane Francis Smith), taking the residual nastiness that leached out of NBC’s About A Boy adaptation and multiplying it tenfold. It’s a ragtag group meant to make Jimmy sympathetic in spite of himself. But You’re The Worst, created by Weeds writer Stephen Falk, is not as assured of itself as Married is, if only because Married doesn’t have to contend with inherently unlikable characters in its lead roles. But You’re The Worst has a strong central team in Cash and Geere. They may be awful, but at least they deserve each other.
You’re The Worst
Created by: Stephen Falk
Starring: Aya Cash, Chris Geere, Desmin Borges, and Shane Franics Smith
Format: Half-hour single-camera sitcom
Premieres: Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on FX
Two episodes watched for review
TV Club reviews by Vikram Murthi will appear weekly