Mental health groups have been paying a lot of attention to Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. The show depicts a teenager’s suicide and the tapes she left explaining her actions. Counselors and therapists have expressed concern that it will inspire copycats. But there’s another show that mental health professionals should be attending to, not out of concern but because it depicts mental illness and therapy so well: You’re the Worst.
The raunchy comedy fits in well on FXX, a network targeted to young adults (particularly young men) that also airs It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Archer. A show like that, on a network like that, isn’t the first place you might expect to see mental illness or its treatment handled with dignity and accuracy.
But the show has quietly earned awards, not to mention strong critical praise, for its depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder in one character and depression in another. (This scene toward the end of season 2 is at once gut-wrenching and beautiful.) In season 3, we see Gretchen (the character struggling with depression, played by Aya Cash) go to therapy. Unlike how comedies usually handle therapy, here the therapist (Samira Wiley) holds boundaries, genuinely helps, and still shows that she is a human being. It’s mostly Gretchen’s anxieties about therapy that are played for laughs, rather than the therapy itself.
Surrounding Gretchen on the show are her boyfriend Jimmy (Chris Geere), Jimmy’s roommate Edgar (a military veteran struggling with PTSD, played by Desmin Borges), and Gretchen’s friend Lindsey (Kether Donohue). Each character is written and acted as someone deeply flawed. One of the common lines of praise of the show has been that it resists moralizing about the characters’ choices. As such, it finds humor in dark places.
In today’s fragmented media landscape, You’re the Worst is considered a success with just under 600,000 average weekly viewers. But therapists and counselors may want to help that small audience grow. For many viewers it may be the most realistic depiction of mental illness — and the helpful role of therapy in recovery — they have ever seen on screen.
You’re the Worst comes back for a fourth season later this year.