This post discusses the series finales of “You’re the Worst” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
“No Children,” a song by the Mountain Goats that FXX’s twisted romantic comedy “You’re the Worst” used in its series finale on Wednesday, sounds as though it could be a track from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the CW’s twisted musical dramedy, which wrapped up its run on Friday. With lyrics that include “I hope the fences we mended / Fall down beneath their own weight / And I hope we hang on past the last exit / I hope it’s already too late,” “No Children” would have been perfectly at home on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a series in which one character began a musical seduction by singing “Unfortunately, I want to have sex with you.”
It wasn’t merely this musical resonance that made it so bittersweet to see out “You’re the Worst” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” in a three-day period. Both shows featured female protagonists who struggled with mental illness, parental expectations and perceived choices between conventionality and self-expression. Both series were capable of veering between hilarity and darkness. And most of all, both series recognized that it’s possible to mine as much drama from the fight to be a good person and a functional adult as from degradation and decline. I hate to lose “You’re the Worst” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" at a moment when we need these particular kinds of stories so badly. But at least they left us by offering visions of the future that are different and yet still complementary and compelling.
By the hordes-of-ice-zombies or city-crushing super-villain standards of contemporary pop culture, the stakes on “You’re the Worst” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” were blessedly human-scale.
The former asked whether publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash) could find a meaningful equilibrium with her depression rather than using it as an excuse to blow up all of her relationships; whether her novelist boyfriend Jimmy (Chris Geere) could develop a personality with more facets than cruelty disguised as honesty. "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” followed the struggle of lawyer Rebecca Bunch (series co-creator Rachel Bloom) to manage what turned out to be borderline personality disorder, a condition that spurred her to impulsively move to the California town where her high-school summer camp boyfriend Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) lives.
But for all that it’s fashionable to knock millennials for their supposed difficulties with the basic tasks of so-called adulting, the questions that animated “You’re the Worst” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” are the sorts of dilemmas that consume most normal human beings. Am I worthy of love? Who might I be and what standards might I have to live up to if I stopped hiding behind my weaknesses? Do I really want what society expects of me, and if I do, does that make me a hopeless conformist? What do I really owe others, am I capable of giving it, and if not, what is the proper course? At a political moment when some have contorted themselves to justify the abandonment of morality and others have reduced ethics to a kind of rigid political box-checking, returning to these concerns feels revitalizing.
It turns out to be fortuitous that these shows made their final bows almost simultaneously, because taken together, they are a valuable reminder that there are many correct and honorable answers to these questions. And no matter what those answers are, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “You’re the Worst” suggested the same tools to discern them: clearsightedness about one’s own character, an ability to be openhearted even when in pain, and a desire to do the right thing for other people even when that thing isn’t obvious and doing it isn’t instinctive.
For “You’re the Worst” protagonists Jimmy and Gretchen, the path to happiness turns out to be traditional adulthood augmented with an escape clause neither of them actually intends to use. They skip getting married in favor of choosing to reaffirm their bond every day. They raise a daughter, a series of events we see in a montage that wraps up the finale, set to “No Children,” both darkly and beautifully reminiscent of the famous prologue to Pixar’s “Up.”
Fulfillment looks very different in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." Though much of the final season of the show centered on whether Rebecca would choose to be with slacker Josh, lawyer Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) or restaurateur Greg (Skylar Astin), her most generous — and most personally productive — act turns out to be the decision to let all three of them go. Rebecca finds herself not in the marriage and career she has spent much of the show chasing, but in actually working to develop the skills that allow her to write and perform the songs she has imagined in her head, and that manifested as the musical numbers that studded “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
If “You’re the Worst” or “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” hadn’t ended almost simultaneously, these two finales might have risked sending rigid messages about the best way to live. Gretchen and Jimmy’s domesticity could have been a brief for the healing power of conventionality, and a rejection of the pursuit of pleasure as narcissism. Rebecca’s decision to remain single and pursue a passion (if not a natural talent) might have read like an escapist bromide in favor of following your bliss.
Taken together, though, the conclusions to these already humane, funny, sometimes piercing shows felt especially careful and tender. Focusing on love and commitment can be an act of maturity and self-actualization through self-sacrifice, as it is in “You’re the Worst.” But in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” romance and sex became tools of evasion and cowardice. Instead of making a common argument for a single destination, these two shows argued for a specific approach to the journey.