“Normal” is a term relative to one’s own experience. This is a pretty bland observation akin to “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” or “The grass is always greener on the other side,” but it’s one we routinely forget when we’re not actively aware of it. For example: If you grow up surrounded by people who get married and start families at a young age, then that idea becomes normalized, but if you don’t grow up in that environment, then that idea is foreign. It only takes a glimpse from a different perspective to discover that an objective “normal” doesn’t exist. The concept of normality is not only socialized but constantly being refined as your life and your environment changes, so striving to be “normal” is completely futile.
In “What Normal People Do,” the best episode of You’re The Worst so far, each character learns this lesson from an unexpected source. Gretchen learns to accept her relationship with Jimmy for what it is from a surprisingly chipper/stoned deliveryman (Steve Agee); Edgar learns that he’s in control of his identity as a veteran from Lindsay, who in turn learns to be comfortable with her eating habits from Edgar; and Jimmy…well, Jimmy’s worldview actually gets somewhat validated this week (that it’s okay to be a little selfish), but he also learns to compromise in his relationships with others, even if “to compromise” just means waking Gretchen up for breakfast.
But You’re The Worst isn’t devolving into a sappy, “aww”-inducing mess. In fact, the episode’s true strength is its ability to forgo cheap sentimentality in favor of low-key honesty mixed with just the right amount of bullshit. Take Gretchen for example: When Sam shows her his new Craftsmen style house (which he’s proud of because of its architectural significance), he not only tells her the house will get him laid, but also explains that women will always come to his house for sex because they know he won’t come to them. Gretchen then fears she lacks agency in her relationship with Jimmy because she always goes over to his house for sex, so after the two of them get day drunk, she makes him come over to his place. But it turns out that she doesn’t really like for Jimmy to come over—neither does he for that matter because it’s disgusting—because she doesn’t have control over her homestead. It’s only when the pizza deliveryman comes around and tells her that he likes delivering pizza because he does it on his terms does Gretchen realize that she can also exert control in her own way: by going over to Jimmy’s and leaving whenever she wants.
Falk’s writing really shines in the plotline’s conclusion because he refuses to make the deliveryman’s words either gospel or complete nonsense. Sure, he delivers pizza the way he wants to—stoned or sometimes not at all—but he’s also willfully stuck in neutral. When Gretchen asks whether he wants to open his own pizza place someday, he jumps at the idea but then reconsiders, saying that it’s probably a lot of work. However, he likes the way he currently delivers pizza because it fits his lifestyle, and Falk doesn’t dismiss him for that. Gretchen is exactly the same way: She knows that her relationship is mostly a function of ease than maturity, but she’s also content with that. It fits her lifestyle for the moment and instead of forcing it to be something “normal,” she’s happy to just let it be comfortably broken.
On the other hand, Edgar is decidedly uncomfortable with his life, and for good reason. He’s suffering from PTSD and using heroin as an outlet for his depression. Gretchen and Jimmy don’t want to listen to his war stories or problems because they’re too depressing, and when he goes to speak at a new veteran’s memorial, he discovers that the public doesn’t want to listen to him either. When he finally finds some people who potentially care about his issues, it turns out they’re pampered actors who want to use him for research for a new movie about veterans. But just while Edgar is waiting outside Jimmy’s house for his dealer, Lindsay pulls up and takes him to the diner instead. It’s there where Edgar says he doesn’t want to be a symbol of patriotism and just wants to be treated normally. Lindsay’s advice? Stop talking about the war all the time and push all the bad thoughts down (or eat them).
On the surface, this is a pretty awful thing to say to someone in Edgar’s situation, yet Falk doesn’t exactly write off Lindsay’s words either. Edgar clearly is having trouble adjusting to civilian life, but he’s not doing himself any favors by dwelling on the past either. He’s only making things worse by defining himself solely as a veteran when he’s much more than that. Lindsay sees him as a “freeloading, kind of dumb Mexican guy that hangs out at Jimmy’s,” which, granted, isn’t great, but it’s a start to something better. In return, Edgar tells Lindsay what Gretchen has been saying all along: she should learn to be happy with who she is and not wire her jaw shut to prevent herself from eating unhealthy foods. Falk understands that good advice and bad advice often come in equal doses and at the same time, and in spite of that, it’s still sometimes exactly what we need to hear. I’ll admit that Edgar and Lindsay sharing French fries dipped in a milkshake provoked a smile from me because it follows an exchange filled with truths, half-truths, and lies, and the latter doesn’t just invalidate the former.
You’re The Worst still has some trouble sticking the landing—the Gretchen-Jimmy plotline ends kind of half-heartedly yet again—but “What Normal People Do” is still satisfying because it’s thematically tight, structurally sound, and sharply written. It incorporates every character in the ensemble into storylines that showcase their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. It finds a way to ride that line between cynical and saccharine, between harsh and empathetic. In short, You’re The Worst is finally settling into a groove that fits its style and provides a healthy mixture of laughs and character-driven stories. It’s finally living up to its potential, even if Gretchen and Jimmy’s relationship is still as aimless as ever.
- In retrospect, I probably would have given last week’s episode a B+. I liked that ending quite a bit.
- I love that Sam is an architecture nerd: “The Craftsmen movement was a protest against the dehumanizing aspects of the Industrial Revolution. Irony is, building these shits was so expensive couldn’t no laborers dream of living in one.”
- Sam wants his house featured in Curbed, Apartment Therapy, and Black Dwell, which is the same as Dwell, but for black people.
- Gretchen is right: All professions allow you to day drink if you want it bad enough.
- The cat Jimmy and Gretchen stole from the bookstore a couple episodes ago makes an appearance in Gretchen’s apartment. Jimmy wonders if the cat misses books.
- Edgar doesn’t really hang with any army buddies not because they remind him of all the shit that went down over there, but because they’re just kind of dicks.
- I’m kind of with Jimmy on the whole “TV vs. Computer” thing. Even though I do it all the time, watching TV on the Internet is just not the same as watching TV on the TV.
- “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll stop talking about my actual war experiences so you can play your war videogame.”
- “This fool Paul know that if you lose weight, that ass gonna shrink too?”
- “My piano teacher growing up had a Craftsmen. I used to sit on that bench and pray, ‘God, please let me have a house like this someday. Also, let me figure out this piece of shit Maple Leaf Rag.’”
- “In war, you exist on a higher plane of awareness, but not in a fun hippie way.”
- “Do you think I just materialize out of the ether whenever you want me? That I exist in some suspended state of crypto-animation only made material when your balls tingle?”
- “Normal people are terrible.”