Jokes come and go, but structure is forever, at least when it comes to sitcoms. There’s a certain thrill that comes from watching a sitcom episode that’s clearly structured with intent as opposed to just watching scenes strung together by jokes and setpieces. Think of the best episodes of Cheers, or Seinfeld, or 30 Rock, or [insert another pantheon sitcom here] and then think about its best episode: Chances are that its structure heavily contributes to its quality. A good foundation is necessary for an ensemble and comedy to shine.
“Genetically Inferior Beta Males” is likely this season’s best episode of You’re The Worst purely on a structural level. Bookended by Gretchen’s therapy sessions, the episode features three subplots beautifully weaved around Gretchen’s motivation, i.e. her insistence to prove her mother’s parenting tactics were great by employing them on her fucked-up friends, something that obviously blows up in her face at the very end. It’s “predictable” in the sense that the pre-credits sequence confirms where the episode will inevitably land—Gretchen will eventually realize the negative effect of her mother’s parenting on her psyche—but watching it play out is genuinely fun, especially because the actual ramifications of Gretchen’s advice manifest themselves in absurd, yet entirely logical ways.
Let’s tackle them one at a time, shall we?
Jimmy Shive-Overly and His Wonderful Day at the Reservoir: After returning from her therapist’s office, Gretchen finds Jimmy playing Zoo Entrepreneur instead of working on the chapters he needs to finish for his editor. In order to curb his procrastination, Gretchen takes the Internet router away, but instead of forcing him to write, he travels to the reservoir and the park. He experiences the joy of dogs, hipster picnics, and even playing basketball on the local court, even though he’s quite bad.
But what starts out as a nice diversion outside eventually turns into a full-blown existential awakening when he guest stars on Vernon’s podcast (Vernon Down The House). On the show, Vernon and Becca, who produces and co-hosts the venture, probe him on his father’s recent death and how he moved to L.A. to become a writer in order to acquire the attention he didn’t receive at home. Jimmy realizes that he had been living in opposition to his father for his entire life, and now that he’s dead, he can finally become his most authentic self, which may not even involve writing at all.
Credited writer Philippe Iujvidin plays this against pattern in that Jimmy doesn’t spiral into panic or fear, but rather he’s thrilled to be able to live life to the fullest without the burden of resentment. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, evidenced by his manically happy monologue to Gretchen in which he wonders aloud if he should be a “master carpenter/treehouse architect/singer-songwriter.” Misanthropy and bitterness may have made Jimmy occasionally intolerable and frequently narcissistic, but it also clearly provided him with professional drive and a foundation for his life philosophy. But with Gretchen’s mild “parenting,” he has fallen into a pit of wide-eyed cheer and a zest for life, something that can only end poorly.
Edgar Quintero and “Dr. Weed”: Since he began using marijuana to self-medicate his PTSD, Edgar has taken up filming low-rent web videos starring himself as “Dr. Weed” for his veteran buddies. They’re kind of dumb and silly, but Gretchen sees this and tries to push Edgar into making his hobby something bigger and better. She hooks him up with a journalist (who has a blue screen like Tosh.O) and persuades him into explaining his feelings on the V.A. and why he’s using marijuana to cope. Edgar provides a thoughtful, passionate response to the camera, but the next day, he sees marijuana activists have taken his video and edited it for their own benefit, misconstruing his words into nonsense that essentially argues “No Pot For Vets = Government Death.”
It’s Edgar’s enraged response that forces Gretchen to realize her mother didn’t quite make her the woman she is today, but rather set her emotional well-being back for years. Though she spends most of the episode speaking in her mother’s voice, it’s only when she hears herself say, “If I quit every time my mother pushed me to do something hard…” that she recognizes she quit all the time. She has been romanticizing a “tough love” parenting approach to blind herself from the reality of her cruel, harsh childhood, which involved food withholding and sleeping on beds without sheets.
Lindsay, Paul, and The Dick Cage: Finally, Lindsay and her continued adventures with cuckolding Paul. After Paul repeatedly interrupts Lindsay’s sex with Raul, her new lover she found online, by making small talk, Gretchen forces her to confront Paul about his behavior. She essentially wants him not to be present while she cuckolds Paul, but instead Paul researches cuckoldry (“an established, rudimentary fetish”) to be a better partner to Lindsay. So what does he do? He purchases and wears a cage for his penis, which “symbolizes the cuck’s sexual inferiority and genital unworthiness,” while Lindsay has a threesome with Raul and his friend. Seeing Paul profess his emasculation while writhing on the floor in pain pushes her to text Gretchen to say she wants an abortion.
The cuckolding subplot this season has mostly been in the background for the past two episodes, but Iujvidin brings it up front this episode, capitalizing on the inherent comedy of the premise—Paul’s willingness to please Lindsay—as well as its eventual discomfort—Paul wears a dick cage. McLeod’s physical comedy is one of the episode’s main highlights, e.g. his nude explanation of cuckoldry and his subsequent screams of pain. Compared to the other two subplots this week, it’s a little thin, but it provides enough laughs that it doesn’t quite matter so much.
All of this leads to Gretchen crawling back to Justina to confess that her mother might not have been the greatest parent, and that she attributes her first bout of depression to one of her “punishments.” It’s a clean illustration of how early wounds can make us strong but also leave behind hidden damage that may take years to show its face. Gretchen tries to help her friends by channeling her mom, but ends up placing them in worse positions than before—Jimmy without an identity, Edgar without Dr. Weed, and possibly Lindsay without a child. Forcing help onto others does nothing but flatter the helper and that flattery only goes so far before crashing down.
- Jimmy’s love of Zoo Entrepreneur couldn’t be more wonderful: “Gretchen, feeding the giraffe and washing the rhinoceri exercises everything that a writer needs for a productive day: Problem-solving, imagination, word-having…”
- Jimmy’s curious interactions with dogs are also brilliant. “You retrieved the projectile? But why?”
- All the details about Vernon’s podcast are spot on and hilarious, like the forced banter between Vernon and Becca, as well as the mid-episode breaks for advertising spots. Plus, I love how Vernon has somehow decided to meld morning radio sound effects into his semi-serious podcast.
- “We all make promises we don’t keep, like you with your presidential fitness challenge, Killian.”
- “Like Bradley Cooper in that movie…Limitless.” “Aloha.”
- “You got me in with the pot people! They’re the worst people, worse than people who study abroad or atheists.”
- “It gets real in the man cave! We made Adam Pally cry. That guy’s got some stuff.”