FX has made comedies both great—Louie, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—and abhorrent—Anger Management—but never romantic. That changes starting Thursday night, with the premiere of two relationship sitcoms, You’re the Worst and Married, that focus on two different beats of the standard romantic-comedy story arc. You’re the Worst zooms in on the beginning, the meet-cute and subsequent hijinks, while Married zooms in on the end, the marriage, parenthood, and soul-sucking fatigue. FX being FX, a network historically aimed at men, its entrée into the love game comes with some macho detailing. Despite one series being about relationship-averse twentysomethings screwing all over the place, and the other about deeply committed married parents who cannot find the energy to screw anyplace, they both manage to feature phone sex, cocaine, and masturbation under the skeptical eye of a not-at-all-turned-on female partner. FX is letting love in, but only so long as it is sufficiently raunchy.
Married, the far more substantial series, stars Nat Faxon and Judy Greer as Russ and Lina, the exhausted parents of three girls. It is much better than what its sour first episode, an off-putting compendium of clichés about sexless marriage, suggests. The show begins with the couple in bed, Lina yet again rejecting Russ’ advances in favor of reading a vampire book. She goes to sleep with him masturbating next to her, until she says he’s shaking the bed again and he moves to the floor. Russ complains to another married man that their sporadic marital sex feels stuck somewhere between “pity sex and necrophilia.” Lina, harried, tells Russ he can find satisfaction elsewhere if he needs to: She’s too spent after doing things for the kids all day to have to “make him happy too.” Russ, with the help of his friends Jess and AJ (series regulars Jenny Slate and Brett Gelman), convinces himself that having sex with someone else will save his marriage. Yet through a combination of fecklessness and loving and fearing his wife, he cock-blocks himself anyway.
Married purports to be about a couple who, though bogged down by the drudgery of adult life, are still best friends, but its first episode skimps on the best-friendship. The rest, thankfully, do not. Sitcoms, far more than dramas, are about chemistry rather than premise. Faxon and Greer have chemistry, with each other and with the very strong supporting cast. (Paul Reiser even shows up as Slate’s character’s much-older husband.) Faxon and Greer are both charismatic, jangly, scene-stealing performers. They have both tamped down their usual antic energy to play the leads, but they feel like a team: partners with their own language, a history, memories, and lots of shared bad jokes, even the one Russ always uses to initiate sex.
In that first episode, Lina seems like yet another underdeveloped female character, the friendless, sexless wife, whose wants and needs are left glaringly unexplored. But the rest of the series gives her due. (FX’s Fargo also kicked off with a shrewish underminer of a wife, who was jettisoned—murdered, really—by Episode 2. Here’s hoping FX eliminates this particular stereotype from its pilots sometime soon.) While Russ is blowing lines and hanging out with AJ and two prostitutes, Lina and Jess are drunk and dancing with younger boys at a bar. (Married is not, pointedly, called Parents. They may be married but they are rarely with children.) Strapped for money to pay for their eldest’s braces, Lina considers going back to work and prepares for her job interview by ill-advisedly hot-boxing the car. By Episode 4, we learn that, contra the pilot, she’s off sex because she wants to make sure Russ’ vasectomy worked, not because she’s just a frigid shrew.
Lina and Russ have a functioning, sometimes charming, sometimes tetchy, always harried, often compromised, but vital marriage. “I don’t hate you,” Lina says one night in bed, touching Russ’s face. “I just hate my life, and my life is you.” “Is this foreplay?” Russ laughs. They may not like their circumstances, but at least they like each other, and that makes them good sitcom company.
The couple at the center of You’re the Worst, meanwhile, don’t like anyone. British writer Jimmy (Chris Geere) and American publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash), two self-involved, lacerating, not very good people meet at a wedding, shag, and discover that though they both hate relationships and other human beings they might not hate each other. You’re the Worst feels very much like the sitcom version of an R-rated romantic comedy, in which tawdriness and dirty jokes are used to make a square and sentimental boy-meets-girl story seem sophisticated.
Minutes into the pilot, Jimmy and Gretchen are having sex in all sorts of positions, confessing all sorts of misdeeds to one another, and generally having a great, meaningful time. He spits on her vagina while going down on her. She makes fun of him for wearing a sleep apnea mask and later steals his car. As the show unfolds, he abandons a small child at a bookstore. She has sex with an old flame to get cocaine for one of her clients. He believes in total, brutal honesty and has a foot fetish. She’ll talk dirty about feet for him. He doesn’t believe in love. She’s scared of it. They are perfect for each other.
As you can probably sense from this synopsis, while You’re the Worst is eventful, its emotional beats are not exactly original. It feels like watching the first 20 minutes of a rom-com over and over again, a notion that I find not entirely unpleasant. I am a sucker for exactly those 20 minutes of all romantic comedies, the 20 minutes that contain the meet-cute, even if it is disguised as a meet-hate, or, in the case of You’re the Worst, as a meet-hate-fuck. Just because it’s lewd, doesn’t mean it’s not love.