“The one’s who love us least / Are the one’s we’ll die to please / If it’s any consolation / I don’t begin to understand them.”—-The Replacements, “Bastards of Young”
There’s the family you’re given and the family you choose. We surround ourselves with the latter often as a relief or an escape from the former, but as much as we try to make our friends our “real family,” they’ll never quite compare. At some point in time, many if not all of us will have to reckon with what our families have passed on to us. There comes a point when they damage they have inadvertently caused will return with a vengeance to demand an audience. A part of being responsible for our actions means contending with the pain we’ve inherited, learning to let go of it or accept that it’ll always be with us.
“The Only Thing That Helps” follows Jimmy as he struggles to cope with his father’s loss upon the arrival of his ashes in the mail. Though You’re The Worst has tracked Jimmy’s grief over the past few episodes, it’s mostly manifested itself in arrogant dismissal, chemical- or sexual-based distraction, or glib remarks. He claims he’s relieved by his father’s death now he can’t torment him anymore, and yet he’s so provoked by the arrival of his ashes that he throws the box onto his driveway. Jimmy hates his father, but it’s a hatred that comes from years of desperately seeking approval or affection and receiving little or nothing in return, ultimately an unsustainable feeling after the object of such ire can no longer respond
The main thrust of the episode involves Jimmy and Gretchen throwing a memorial service for Jimmy’s father before scattering his ashes, as requested by Jimmy’s sibling. Though Jimmy has little interest in the event, Gretchen all but forces him to do it after she sees him talking to the bowl of ashes and sharing excerpts of his book to it over drinks. He relents and even plans to give a eulogy (read: heckles), but later ends up overjoyed that Ronnie’s friend Freddie (Andrew Connolly) promises to read something at the service, which promises to be a quick and forgettable event.
But that’s never the case when a You’re The Worst party comes together, especially since singer-songwriter Ben Folds, a recent client of Gretchen’s who promises he’s just a “regular guy from North Carolina who plays piano and smokes a pretty decent pork shoulder,” chooses not only to attend but also to play the service. (You know, because he has his piano in the truck.) Folds’ guest spot in the episode works great even before the memorial service sequence simply because he has a gentle, robotic delivery to the dialogue that makes jokes funnier than they already are, but his musical interludes during the event add a necessary absurdist edge to the proceedings. Even when cruelties are exchanged, they’re peppered with a laugh because Folds’ piano rises up in the soundtrack at any given silence. Plus, his character thinks no one knows what the song “Brick” is about, and gets upset whenever someone responds with, “Abortion,” one of the single best conceived jokes of the season.
In a way, “The Only Thing That Helps” evokes You’re The Worst at its very best, at least in terms of deftly balancing comedy and drama, which, shockingly, is a bit more difficult than it sounds. The episode is very funny and stands as a testament to the writers’ room ability to craft complex one-liners and monologues, or even just the well-conceived joke, such as the fact that Killian is always present as a bartender despite being fairly incompetent at the job. And yet, it’s an episode that’s also about an individual coming to terms with the fact that he’ll never really get over his emotional damage, that the baggage his father saddled with him will always be by his side, that closure, at least in the conventional sense of the word, doesn’t really exist.
When Freddie gets up to read his eulogy, it turns out that it’s a note Ronnie wrote before he died to be read at the service, and it’s an appalling, albeit comical, piece of writing that tries to rewrite the history of his relationship with Jimmy. It says he tried to connect with him and that it never took, but he forgives him anyway, which only enrage Jimmy more. But that has nothing on the anecdote about the time they saw Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s 1996 film Big Night, where apparently a young Jimmy explains to his father that he wants to tell stories for a living and Ronnie responds with a cheeky, “You can do anything you want, son.’”
Of course it’s all bullshit. According to Jimmy, he begged his dad to take him to see Big Night (again, the fact that Big Night is the movie in question is just wonderful), but instead Ronnie went to go see D3: The Mighty Ducks and left Jimmy at the theater when his film was over. In a fit of justifiable rage, Jimmy explodes at his friends, paralyzed and embarrassed into silence, about his father’s pathological lies and neglect, heckling a man who’s only ash in a can, only to realize that Ronnie was sick when he visited him last, when they had that one honest, confusing moment in the pub.
The episode’s final scene is of Jimmy sitting in front of Tony Shalhoub’s house where he will scatter his dad’s ashes per his request, even though he fears “Shalhoub” is a “Paki” name. As he’s wont to do, Jimmy monologues to ashes with a bottle of booze, venting years of frustration at him, but it’s not another exaggerated rant from a man prone to having those once a week. Instead, it’s honest and forthright about his anger towards him and the regret he feels about not getting a chance to say everything he wanted to say. Seething with bitterness and rage, Jimmy raves against his parenthood and his lies, and how he refused to open his heart to his only son. Then, he tries to punt the ashes into Shalhoub’s driveway, but the ashes only end up raining down upon him as Jimmy bursts into tears.
Chris Geere frequently excels in his performance week to week, but this episode, he gets to flex all the emotional muscles of the character—his fury, humor, sadness, regret, etc. The subtext of Jimmy’s words and actions are that he inherited his narcissism from his father, that the man who wrote a eulogy for his own funeral has plenty in common with a son who wrote the heckles for that man at the same service. But as the physical remnants of his dad stain his clothes, Jimmy also must reckon with the fact that that pain never goes away, just dulls over time, and the man that he’s so angry at will always live inside him. Words only take you so far, but the rest remains in the silence.
- The other two subplots this week involve Paul and Lindsay’s relationship and Edgar’s struggle to get a marijuana card while retaining his V.A. benefits. Paul reluctantly agrees to Lindsay “playing” with a guy she found on the Internet while he watches, for the good of their family, even though it makes him uncomfortable and will likely drive them further apart. Meanwhile, Edgar’s gets pushback from the V.A. because marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug and thus it cannot be endorsed by a government entity, even though it’s legal in California. Naturally, Edgar gets a card anyway, but keeps it from the government.
- The pre-credits montage of Jimmy writing is fantastic for two reasons: 1. It legitimately captures the process of writing, which for some feature a lot of pacing, drinking, smoking, eating, sleeping, and adjusting position; and 2. It’s set to Dinosaur Jr.’s “I Walk For Miles,” arguably the best song off their new record Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not.
- Ben Folds brings some of his pork shoulder to the service because it’s the right thing to do.
- Once again, Vernon comes in with the most honest bro-filtered advice for Edgar regarding his marijuana card: “Doctor in me is like, ‘You’re the patient, take what you’ve been prescribed, you dumb little bitch.’ But the human in me is like, ‘Smoke that ganj, yo.’ Real talk: It’s bull-worthy you can’t get a pot card. You went to war, and straight berserkered on fools. That’s an actual reason.”
- Vernon’s reason for getting a card? “I just said I saw a dog…Total lie. Didn’t see a dog all day. On TV, sure, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing three or four of them shits.”
- Jimmy’s heckles: 1. “Dad, I truly hope you rest in peace, as opposed to how you usually rest: IN urine-soaked sweatpants”; 2. “Dad, fortunately your death wasn’t too much of a shock considering you already look like someone put a Manchester jersey on the corpse of a drowned person”; 3. “Dad, you always were a ladykiller. You gave all three of my sisters genes for alcoholism, learning disabilities, and morbid obesity.”
- If you’re going to take a photo of Ben Folds and put it on Instagram, make sure to hashtag it with #BenFoldsSighting, #BenFoldsIsEverywhere, #BenFoldsMovesToLA
- “Oh my god. I just got some video of a raccoon running down our street with two fistfuls of Chinese food. The Internet is going to go bonkers for Chow Mein Raccoon.”
- “Oh, you mean the Independent Nation of California. Is that the Army you fought for? The Army of California? How did they pay you? Avocados and screenplays?”
- “I gotta say, I thought you were going to be a high maintenance diva.” “No, you must be thinking of Ben Kweller.”
- Here’s the music video for “Brick,” which rest assured, is still about abortion.