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Tonight, FX will prove that it doesn’t always get everything right, particularly when it comes to comedy.
In fact, with Married and You’re the Worst, it gets so much wrong that it’s almost painful to recount.
That it has two of the all-time greats in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Louie does partially obscure some trouble the channel has had along the way with comedies. FX recently gave up on Legit, a tough-sell series that was both funny and touching and — maybe most important — different than anything on television. FX is also saying goodbye to Wilfred, one of my particular favorites and a series that never got enough credit for how hilarious and twisted it could be while also being a strangely touching rom-com.
What FX still has in its arsenal are Archer, the best animated comedy on television, and The League, which skillfully mines a particular brand of comedy. All told, a better than average run but certainly not a road paved with riches like the one that leads viewers to all of the superb dramas the channel has to offer.
But hey, Louie can cover up almost anything.
There’s little doubt, however, that Married and You’re the Worst are big steps back for the channel, mostly because they reveal a cheap, easy and unsophisticated take on sexuality. Compounding the issue, Married seriously wastes the talents of stars Judy Greer and Nat Faxon. (The wonderful John Hodgman is also in the show, as is Jenny Slate, who is always great).
With that much comedy gold, it’s pretty hard to screw up. And yet …
How did this happen? Who knows. But the pilot for Married is a tonal disaster, with Faxon, as Russ, a whiny, sexually demanding and clueless husband who feels cheated in life because wife Nina (Greer) is too tired and harried with their three daughters to put out or, it appears, have even the slightest interest in sex. It’s such a tired trope that it’s shocking FX didn’t cover the script, from creator Andrew Gurland, in notes.
Those notes should have read: “Start over.” Or, “We’d like to have something a little more sophisticated.”
That’s not to say that FX hasn’t successfully mined what would otherwise pass as typical “guy” humor. It’s just been able to do it on Louie and Archer with comedic brilliance because the writers of those shows have more to offer than cardboard cutout variations on relationships.
Married (and You’re the Worst) traffic in masturbation jokes that seem dated even for high schoolers, but apparently some people never mature in their ability to express male-female struggles on any other level than the lowest and easiest. The Married pilot is forced, mostly unfunny and tragic in that you immediately want to root for Faxon and Greer, two very funny and very likable comic actors, to have better material. The entire cast gets an infinitesimal increase in material in future episodes, but it’s difficult to recommend anyone sticking around while Married tries to improve its foundational flaws.
You’re the Worst is an even — oh, fine, here goes — worse pilot, with the whole production seeming unsure of itself. (Both series are very self-conscious about what they’re attempting, but more so with Worst.) The goal of Worst seems to be taking two unlikable characters who currently loathe the concept of a relationship and slowly bring them together as they discover that they’re not as awful and prickly as they seem or, charitably, that they are well-suited to each other because they enjoy the terrible behavior of the other.
It’s probably important to point out that this negative reaction to Worst has nothing to do with being prudish in any way about really bad people and dubiously offensive behavior between a man and a woman. Egregiously crude and rude and morally bankrupt can be hilarious when done effectively (See: Archer), but everything in You’re the Worst seems forced and juvenile. Even its best moments — pinpoint rants — seem like they read better on the page than they do coming out of the mouths of stars Chris Geere and Aya Cash. And yet, as Jimmy and Gretchen, it should be noted that Geere and Cash are very, very good — they just need better material. (Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, even though they don’t get much work, grind the show to a halt — an almost insurmountable problem except that Worst’s penchant for trying to shock with crassness is really the stumbling block here).
If the pilot wasn’t so off-putting and unsure of itself at the same time, viewers might feel compelled to give the second episode of You’re the Worst a chance. It’s a definite improvement and, there are glimpses of a show there (same with Married), but even Geere’s British accent and his spot-on timing — which often does the material a solid when there’s nothing there — and Cash’s underlying sentimentality, can’t set the hook.
The problem for both shows, essentially, is that they are so hell-bent on shocking in some kind of “we’re on cable, we can go balls out” kind of juvenilia, that all you’ll really want to do is kick them both in said balls, and tell each to stop the frat-boy nonsense and go for something less easy and obvious.
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