For something that increasingly feels like the “norm,” sex on television has long been a taboo before the boobs of Game of Thrones or the graphic (but important) sex scenes on The Americans. Historically, it's a taboo that goes beyond the depiction of the act itself, rendering abortion storylines, same sex romances, and threesomes as complaint fodder for the Parents Television Council.
While television mores have certainly loosened up, there’s still a lot of talk about the depiction of sex on television, from the rampant sexual assault and rape storylines of GoT to the subversion of the male gaze in shows like Outlander and Amazon’s I Love Dick. In our overwhelming television landscape, there are plenty depictions of sex to either be enraged by. But there's also so much to be empowered or thrilled by, and if we’re being honest here, there’s no better portrayal of sex currently on television than FX’s You’re the Worst, starting its third season tonight.
With the pilot episode of the show, You’re the Worst establishes its relationship with sex right off the bat with a post wedding one-night stand between Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere). They completely skip traditional “getting to know you” beats—the meet-cute, the awkward first date—and immediately go to the bonezone. And even though that’s the case, there’s absolutely no implication that their connection is less magnetic or meaningful because it doesn’t go through those tropes. The scene itself, while not graphic per se, feels naked and vulnerable in a way rarely seen on television. It’s completely sexy and erotic, but within the short scene, sex isn’t even the most important part—it’s that creator Stephen Falk, alongside great performances from Cash and Geere, automatically establishes who Gretchen and Jimmy both are. Gretchen’s blasé sarcasm is hiding something much more emotional than she’ll ever let on. Jimmy’s boastful pretension is hiding his true identity as a romantic (and his foot fetish). These immediate insights into who they both are allow for the characters to further grow, something we later see when Gretchen, despite her hesitations, tells Jimmy about her crippling clinical depression or when the two share a weirdly tender moment while Jimmy reads his childhood erotic tales to Gretchen while she masturbates. Yes, they’re weird moments but they’re used to illustrate the level of comfort that they feel with one another, and how it’s okay to reach that through unconventional means. And it continues to establish the intense chemistry that they share—despite their “fear” of relationships—really showing what happens when you let your guard down with another person.
Over the phone, Falk explains how hard it is to make an authentic-feeling sex scene. “Sex is always a tricky balance on television because on one side you have titillation and on the other the narrative rigors of storytelling. So you go about it as you do with any scene: Is it revealing about character? Does it help the story? Or is it just goddamn entertaining? We clearly started off season one with a strong sex scene between two strangers who became the leads on our show. And since then, we’ve used them very sparingly to help put them in a different context in which to show what’s going on in their relationship.”
The opening minutes of season three’s premiere do just that. After a rough season two that dealt with Gretchen’s expertly handled depression story arc and the season-ending exchange of “I love you,” Gretchen and Jimmy are miles away from their one-night stand of season one and whether they’d like to admit it or not, have fully embarked on an actual relationship. So, the surprising sex scene that opens up the season is very purposeful, according to Falk. “This season, we use it to show that they are reconnecting. There’s a point to the scene; he’s giving to her, he’s sweet to her, he’s letting her be the star of the encounter. And it’s used purposefully to show that they’re still connected and that they’re strong enough of a couple to go through something like they did last season and still have that love and appetite for each other.”
Gretchen and Jimmy's appetites for one another prove to still be voracious, especially in comparison to another couple in the house, Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Dorothy (Collette Wolfe), whose lukewarm encounter speaks volumes to the cooling off of their very romantic pairing last season. It’s just another example of how well You’re the Worst shows emotional growth (or stagnation) through pure physicality. As Falk said, the sprinkling of sex scenes throughout the show, instead of constantly relying on them just adds more emotional punch. “Sex on television is so often treated in a very purile, adolescent way, or really maudlin and unsexy. We try to walk that balance,” says Falk. That balance, between sexy and meaningful, funny and thoughtful, character building and pushing the envelope, is just another reason on top of many, why You’re the Worst is one of the best shows on television.