Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
True “dramedies” feel like a dying breed. Some shows are great miniature 30-minute dramas disguised as comedies (as Julie Klausner would say), like Hulu’s cute and compassionate show Casual. Others lean more on the straight-up humor side of things without diving too deep into dramatic weeds, a.k.a. anytime the bunker is brought up on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
You’re the Worst is the much-needed middle ground. Creator Stephen Falk is so unafraid to stock his show with characters that live up to its title, and then some, that it makes it far easier to stomach any of the dark turns that are frequently taken. After all, with people this mean-spirited and self-centered, it’d be unbelievable if the writing only had bawdy humor on its mind. Thankfully, it doesn’t, and season 3 not only carries last year’s unsettling reveal about Gretchen’s mental health to its logical next step, but it does so without losing a charismatic ounce of You’re the Worst‘s quotable, cathartically relatable group of heathens.
True to form, the show deals with last year’s romantic cliffhanger in the first scene, but according to Jimmy (Chris Geere), the fact that he told Gretchen (Aya Cash) “I love you” while he was drunk, it doesn’t count. Infuriated by Jimmy’s preference for emotional solitude, Gretchen launches into a new arc that she hopes will show Jimmy every side of her that he doesn’t already know (she’s never eaten a blueberry because “they look like doll eyes, think about it”). And maybe that means helping herself out too, once she finally starts seeing therapist Justina (Samira Wiley, from Orange is the New Black) to address her clinical depression.
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That’s the immediate sign that you’re in good hands with Falk: Gretchen’s depression isn’t treated like a one-and-done problem-of-the-season, but ends up as the springboard for stories that will come this year, and (hopefully) beyond. She’s more prepared to open up with Jimmy than he ever will be, because she saw that when she was at her worst, he stayed. The tiny victories Gretchen and Jimmy accomplish – opening bills in the mail, saying I love you – are essentially the dumb, nonsensical stuff of sitcoms past, but forged with this level of creativity and delivered by these actors as to feel fresh again.
The cast is rounded out as usual with Jimmy’s PTSD-suffering, improv-loving roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Gretchen’s unhinged bestie Lindsay (Kether Donohue), both continuing to grow beyond the show’s initial reluctance to give either anything substantial to do. Edgar’s still dating comedian Dorothy (Collette Wolfe), although a few of his medications are giving him trouble in the intimacy department. Lindsay might have more pressing issues as she’s yet again back in a loveless marriage with Paul (Allan McLeod), who’s convinced her to keep her microwave sperm baby despite Gretchen’s fun afternoon outing offer of an “abobo” and mani-peti combo.
On a show full of awful people, Donohue just keeps twisting the knife (and I mean that literally) into her character’s narcissistic, self-serving insanity, and it’s a blast to watch. Her bottom-barrel moments epitomize the alternate universe where You’re the Worst ended up as a multi-camera sitcom on one of the big four networks (she spends literally all of episode 2 in a sexy nurse’s outfit), but it works so well in the context of a show that’s earned its scars. Her on again/off again romance with Paul is slightly stretching thin the longer it plays out, but at least You’re the Worst knows how to shock you – particularly in a hilariously traumatic episode 1 cliffhanger – just when you thought things were beginning to settle down.
All the same, two episodes makes it hard to get a grasp at what You’re the Worst does best in the humor department: long recurring gags with satisfying payoffs near the end of the season (last year’s “she aight” is a personal favorite). The return of Lindsay and Sam’s (Brandon Mychal Smith) terrible, unforgettable earworm “New phone, who dis?” is a highlight early on, and a potential new catchphrase to be passed through the gang like a phonetic virus rears its head in episode two, but without more episodes it’s hard to tell if the punchlines will be as satisfying as last year. Still, even though this comedic continuity is a standout, and highlights the show’s above-average intelligence, the writing in general remains as stinging and noxiously funny as ever.
Combined with the honest humor, it’s all the little character discoveries that make the show worthwhile, allowing You’re the Worst to become more dynamic and rewarding in the long run than most thirty minute shows. Gretchen’s depression became the focus of the back half of season 2, but it made sense for her character in a way that never felt exploitative for the sake of juicy TV drama. Although no such “issue” has emerged yet in season 3 (nor do I believe You’re the Worst needs to turn into such a touchstone for illnesses and traumas), that’s only because its characters are so emotionally stunted, finding out each new secret about them easily turns into the show’s best hook.
But that sense of fear only bolsters You’re the Worst‘s credibly pessimistic world, and when Jimmy and Gretchen do eventually decide to wear their stains on the outside of their clothes (as Lindsay put it last year), it feels believably hopeful. Not for a happy ending, god no, they’re both still in this thing with one foot out the door, ready to bolt at any moment, but their glacially paced march towards something in the neighborhood of eternal soul mates is what every single cynical piece of fiction needs: a beating, optimistic heart, even a tiny Grinch one that’s buried deep.
With that heart fueled by lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry between Geere and Cash – the former somehow able to pull off ‘endearing asshole’ like no one else, the latter just a plain lovely treasure – You’re the Worst doesn’t only feel peerless, it feels special. It’s honest to its equally dead-inside characters, but also to the fleetingly deep and erratic emotions they come across when sorting their messy lives out. Gretchen and Jimmy, at their most relatable, are simply people who feel deeply and strongly, but lack a capacity to externalize that in clear, meaningful ways.
Because of this, payoffs come slow, and there isn’t much in these first two episodes that screams at the audacious inventiveness of entries like last year’s “LCD Soundsystem,” which was weirdly bold one moment, and then candidly, brutally devastating by the final shot. Will season 3 have such moments? It’s impossible to say, but the sheer fact that the show – a “comedy” still, according to generalizations on the internet – has been able to pull off such dark tangents in the past is reason enough to be patient.
You're the Worst relishes in its anti-rom-com humor, intelligently handles a few dead-serious themes, and does it all without shortchanging one of the most endearing and dynamic couples on TV.