Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

An emotionally exaggerated You’re The Worst spins its wheels

Illustration for article titled An emotionally exaggerated You’re The Worst spins its wheels

As anyone with an awareness of television formulas already knows, sitcom characters can’t really change all that much from week to week, or really, over the entire course of the series. Even in these Golden Age/Peak times, television relies on stasis and consistency in order to maintain viewership. Audiences return to a show weekly largely because they know they’re going to get X when they tune in, not Y. Yet, this doesn’t have to be an inherently limiting factor, and many popular, acclaimed shows have built this idea into the series’ development. Take You’re The Worst, a show about two narcissists in a relationship that’s also about the slow process of maturation. It’s a given that Jimmy and Gretchen aren’t going to magically become different people at the end of an episode or season. Instead, Falk and co. illustrate how people who have developed also take steps backwards, regress back into old habits, and cruelly lash out at others. Awareness is only the first step, but sustained positive action is a lifetime’s work.

But it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to watch. In the first part of this season, Jimmy and Gretchen have returned to a state of normalcy, i.e. constantly drunk and emotionally closed off, after Gretchen’s spiral last year. The two are arguably closer than ever, but they are also at their most insufferable. In “Men Get Strong,” Gretchen tries to get Jimmy to actually experience grief for his father’s death, mostly because she doesn’t want it to bubble up on their “rad cruise,” so they embark on a “sadness” journey that largely involves them avoiding the issue. They go to a funeral, but they end up getting aroused and having sex at the graveyard. They go to a Make-Your-Own-Pottery place with fathers and sons only to see an abominable child bully his dad. They go to a British-themed bar where Gretchen dresses up like Jimmy’s father and berates Jimmy, and the only reaction she gets out of him is a fart.

This is standard You’re The Worst material, but at this point in the game, it’s become a bit of a one-note chore watching Jimmy and Gretchen act this obliviously obnoxious, especially when we’ve already seen them as nuanced, vulnerable human beings. Sure, Jimmy’s cold reaction to his father’s death falls in line with the character and his strained familial relationships, and yet it feels too exaggerated in “Men Get Strong” for much of the emotional content to land, especially when the audience is aware of the self-delusion on display. Credited writer Alison Bennett and Falk certainly have legitimate creative reasons for these characterizations—it opens the show up comedically, damaged human beings relapse back into old tendencies all time, core traits never change, etc.—and yet sometimes it can’t help but feel like the series is stuck in neutral as opposed to the characters.

Some of this has to do with the high bar established by the series’ second season, but some of it also has to do with the macro-plotting this year, which essentially amounts to tiny crumbs of foreshadowing. The obvious one is Edgar, whom everyone on the show uniformly treats like utter shit to the point where it has stopped becoming a joke and more of a cringe-worthy recurrence. In the episode, Jimmy and Gretchen bully Edgar into driving them around and treat him like the worst Uber driver imaginable, complete with Jimmy texting him ratings. Of course, they’re unaware that he skipped his VA appointment to get drunk alone, and that he lies about his car breaking down so he doesn’t have to see them again. Near the end, Gretchen makes a tiny effort to get him to open up, but when he declines, she’s openly relieved not to have to deal with his trauma. You’re The Worst in part has become a waiting game to see if someone will actually notice Edgar’s pain before or after he falls of the proverbial cliff. Again, there are legitimate reasons why Jimmy and Gretchen wouldn’t see Edgar’s mental anguish, mainly because people miss warning signs in others all the time, but it’s still a slog to have to wait before the inevitable shoe drops.

Lindsay’s B-story this week is also a bit old hat as she decides on a whim to become a “good dad” by going to a mommy class with Becca and Vernon. Upending expectations, Lindsay excels at the required tasks, such as changing a diaper, burping a baby, and providing CPR, but when she’s faced with Paul and Becca’s honest approval of her skills, she starts to feel trapped. By the end, she’s trading fears and anxieties with a clueless father (Gabriel Olds) who’s also on his second chance only for her to ruin it by trying to make out with him. When he cries foul, she literally runs out of the place, leaving her “prize” (a small giraffe) behind on the floor. Though the ending hits all the right beats, it falls into the same trap as the A-story: This is a rushed version of a storyline we’ve seen before with nothing much new to offer.

What saves the episode is its comedy, which is as quick-paced and witty as ever. Bennett packs “Men Get Strong” with so many memorable one-liners that they’re easy to miss, like Lindsay’s explanation of grief (“My guinea pig died and I couldn’t jack off for, like, half a day”) to Jimmy commenting that the sexy funeral he and Gretchen attend is like the one from the “November Rain” music video. Of course, Vernon getting absolutely tanked at the mommy class takes the cake (“Nothing gets this pimp through a baby class like toilet beer”), but that’s almost expected at this point. You’re The Worst has been at its quippiest this season and that’s nothing to shake a stick at.


However, “Men Get Strong” proves to be a disappointment, especially compared to last week’s funny and emotional episode, if only because it feels like the wheels are just spinning. Something will inevitably occur to heighten the stakes or recalibrate the series’ action, but until then, all we’re left with is vague hints of what’s to come. The last shot of the episode is a slightly open drawer, the one filled with items Jimmy’s father has left behind, which is a potent closing image and also a neat metaphor for the series’ current mode right now: A lot of openings waiting to be blown wide open down the road. Here’s hoping that that happens sooner rather than later.

Stray observations

  • Jimmy “steals” another blowjob by pretending to be grief-stricken in front of Gretchen. Later on, Gretchen admits that it was a pretty good heckle.
  • We catch up with Justina again this week as she’s having a cigarette and fighting with her boyfriend over the phone. She’s the one who tells Gretchen to be prepared for Jimmy’s eventual breakdown.
  • Killian returns this week as Jimmy’s typist for his new novel. He still doesn’t know where his dad is and his request to be thanked provokes a nice Mad Men reference.
  • Snacks from the British Speciality Store: Shrimp-flavored crisps, Wallingers Choco-Knockers, Ta-Ta Biscuits. All your standard candies: Lemingtons, Fluffingtons, Rum Christophers, Salted Licorice Knib-Knobs.
  • Emotional characters who die in movies, according to Jimmy: Kane from Citizen Kane; the wife from Up; table-dancing destitute on the bottom deck of the Titanic. The one’s who survive, according to Jimmy: RoboCop, Terminator, Chappie.
  • “Okay, seriously, dude, I think you might have a drinking problem, like you need to go to church basements and shit.”
  • “I actually just read something interesting about PTSD. It turns out in WWI, the official term for PTSD was ‘cowardice,’ and you were shot for it.”
  • “While I’m out, copy-edit the chapter where Simon watches Kitty bathe after the trip-hop concert.”
  • “Name one family that’s two people.” “Gilmore Girls.”
  • “The problem is death doesn’t bother me. I’m not upset by the inevitable. It’s like being upset by the weather, or an Irishman proving to be untrustworthy.”
  • “Make sure to pull out. I can get pregnant. Your dad might be floating around looking for a grave to reincarnate.”
  • “What? No. He’s a legitimately bad person, like my son is an awful human being. He set up a bunch of Facebook accounts to cyber-bully me.”
  • “If you lose your shit on the cruise and ruin my time with Cotton Candy Raccoon, Bubble Gecko, or Sneezy Panda, or…well, she died in a plane crash, but never mind.”
  • Here’s the video for “November Rain”: