Thursday, October 22, 2015

You're the Worst 2x07 "There Is Not Currently A Problem" (Stains on the Outside) [Contributor: Anne]

"There Is Not Currently A Problem"
Original Airdate: October 21, 2015

I could start from anywhere in this review, because it doesn't matter; all pathways in this episode will lead to the discussion of Aya Cash's unbelievable, Emmy-worthy performance –– from her disdain of "theater girl" Dorothy to her rage-filled rant, to the more serious issues on which "There is Not Currently a Problem" hinges.

If we're ending up there, why don't I first talk about the elements that allowed Aya the opportunity to give her best performance on this show to date? Those elements, by the way, being every single part of this show. The humor is probably the most opposing force to Gretchen's clinical depression, which makes it all the more impressive that the show can dole it out in spite of, or perhaps because of, the dark subject matter. Jimmy's inability to understand The Lion King is a classic favorite that sets up the episode as being a truly great one, but the greatness continues with Vernon (who would have guessed he'd become a favorite of mine?!), the use of "rando" by pretty much everyone to describe Dorothy, and even Gretchen's rant, which attacks Edgar's PTSD, Dorothy's "tweener" status, and Jimmy's "plight as a writer." The writing of this episode is incredible, to the point where even the background music of Honey Nutz and Shitstain's diss track is hilarious ("I hate him more than white people love The Wire").
What sells humor? The characters. This compliment has two paths; first, the humor is so drenched in what we know about the characters (even the new characters, like Dorothy) that jokes are made funnier. As I've mentioned, Vernon is especially hilarious because of his special vocabulary ("osteoporos" is great, but my fave will forever be "commune tabes"). In addition, the delivery by everyone is so perfect that the most basic of sentences are hysterical. Chris Geere is especially notable for delivery –– he's able to elevate his voice to giddiness, lower it to total disdain, and do verbal backflips for imitations (in this episode for a classic New Yorkian). Obviously, though, everyone nails it, especially here; Kether Donohue's high voice is the perfect complement to her confessing to drinking soy sauce and whatever she performed on Malcolm Jamal-Warner at Barney's Beanery. In fact, in the scene in question, Lindsay is comforting Gretchen, so Kether is asked to be both comical and compassionate at the same time in her delivery. (Which she does.) And while I could go on, believe me when I say that there is no member of this cast whose delivery is not equally satisfying and nuanced, from Edgar's "I didn't know it was a school" to Dorothy's "Avaca-don't"s to Paul or Sam or any of the other characters.

I've mentioned the quality, the nuance, in every element so far, so allow me to discuss these same things in terms of what the actors delivered on a dramatic level. Their expressions changed at the micro level! The camera work also gives these smallest of actions significant weight, such as when Jimmy notices Gretchen's fidgeting and Lindsay notices Dorothy's hand on Edgar's knee. But even in extended shots –– Gretchen's rant, or Lindsay's comforting speech, or Gretchen's confession to Jimmy of her depression –– the actors are fully engaged in their material. Perhaps my favorite example of this is Chris Geere's face during Gretchen's confession. It's a million things moving rapidly, as Jimmy processes Gretchen. He smiles at her while she's talking about how she has it handled, but he does not look happy, not at all, and his facial expressions react just as sensitively to this prognosis which means so much to Gretchen and to Jimmy's continued relationship with her. It means that she's comfortable enough to wear her stains on the outside, but it also means that he has to accept stains which will never go away, and the ache he feels that she has stains to handle at all. Chris Geere wears all of these on his face in an astonishing way.

Maybe it's because he gets to work alongside someone who brings out the best in him, because here we are, finally, to the leading lady of the half-hour. Look, everything I've said –– the writing, the delivery, the characterization, the micro-actions –– all of it is true in Aya's performance. Gretchen is so fully-realized that this revelation –– something that we are learning about for the first time as well –– falls in line with what we know about her while still being truly surprising. Often, writers will pull rabbits out of hats for the sole intent to shock us and subvert our expectations. This was never, ever the case with Gretchen's clinical depression. For one, the trope-y expectation that the show presented us (that Gretchen had a "side bitch," specifically, Ty) never felt right, and for another, her depression only sharpens her motivations in past episodes. Why is Gretchen "scared of this [relationship] shit"? Maybe because she's afraid that she will never be comfortable enough to share her darkest secrets with Jimmy –– for what their relationship actually entails.

The most important part of Gretchen's reveal –– and of Aya's performance –– is obviously the depiction of clinical depression and mental illness. This is what all of the news articles about this show will mention, and it would be wrong of me to not make mention of it myself. As someone who can at least tangentially relate to Gretchen, I adored what I saw; I felt as if the words coming out of her mouth were words that I've thought or words that others have confided in me.

We're all afraid of being messed up, we're all afraid to be sad without any reason why, we're all afraid of the idea that some things in life, like plague-causing vermin, do not have a fix, that we are haunted by these mean, sad, destructive thoughts. We're all afraid, mostly, that these rough moments –– these inexplicable, irrational phases –– will ruin relationships, or that these rough moments make us unworthy to have the relationships that we truly do deserve. Isn't that why Gretchen lashes out at the end? She considers herself a mess that no one can understand or fix, so why are they even still around?

But Lindsay remains, because she loves Gretchen. And Jimmy remains, because he loves Gretchen, although as he watches the new mouse enter his home, we know that the discussion is not over between the couple. And while that's contrary to how television normally works (most shows that would dare to discuss this would end the episode without a second mouse), it's not contrary to life. This is a major hurdle for both Jimmy and Gretchen to face. It's not a problem solved in 22 minutes; it's a problem Gretchen's faced her entire life. Jimmy's love may help –– in most television shows, it would redeem her and "fix" her –– but I don't think that will be the case here. That coda on an already excellent discussion of clinical depression is significant for the characters and the plot going forward, and the absolute right choice for the show to make.

There's nothing about the reveal that I don't love and admire, and again I am hard-pressed to find a show that does everything as well as You're the Worst does. It's a playground for someone like me. Its humor is sharp, its central couple makes sense both as a dynamic and as two individuals, and the show trusts me to appreciate the devastating reality over the television, tropey reality I'm hardwired to expect. No show plots as deliberately, moves the camera as cleverly, and features actors so, so on point, week in and week out. But for this episode in particular, the ovation is for Aya Cash, who by bravely portraying Gretchen's struggle to wear her stains on the outside has somehow transcended every benchmark of a show that already transcends those around it.

Stray Observations:
  • Because I heard this episode would be a big deal, I watched it live, and guys, The League. Yikes.
  • I do not trust Dorothy and her notepad. I'm getting some "guy from NCIS: LA" vibes.
  • I'm very sorry about my absence last week. This past week has been a mess (I'm on the job hunt and dealing with midterms), so I couldn't get reviews out in time. Anyway, it's better if I didn't, because this episode is much more interesting to comment on than "Side Bitch," which, despite being a great episode, definitely was a stage-setter for this one.
  • The only thing I have to say about "Side Bitch" now is that I am actually confused by Jimmy's face at the end of that episode. Why is he smiling, happy that Gretchen doesn't have a "side bitch," and then by the beginning of the next episode is troubled by what is clearly wrong with her?
  • "Improv is the lowest form of comedy. That whole school of yours is just a bunch of actors so janky looking  no one will write lines for them so you have to make them up yourselves!" "Oh, shit!"
  • "Seriously, Jimmy, I feel such empathy for you, being a writer! I mean, everyone feels sorry for  kids forced to work in the diamond mines in Sierra Leone, but where is the telethon for the noble writer? Bravely drinking coffee! Spilling his blood to get his feelings out, filling two, maybe three whole pages before his heroic effort is cut short by the desire to watch internet porn! Or get a snack!"


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