At the end of last season, Jimmy and Gretchen, the self-destructive lead couple at the center of Stephen Falk’s series You’re The Worst, said the words, “I love you,” to each other, a monumental feat for two people who openly disdain growth in their relationships. It signaled a moderate step forward for the two after a rocky patch in their relationship fueled by the nasty return of Gretchen’s clinical depression and Jimmy’s emotional and semi-physical affair with a snowboarding bartender. But the two eventually came back to each other’s lives, hardened and more aware of their respective strengths and weaknesses.

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You’re The Worst’s third season premiere “Try Real Hard” picks up not long after the events of last season and catches up with the slow, rocky progress of its three main couples. Written by Falk, “Try Real Hard” illustrates that awareness of one’s problems and a pledge to improve doesn’t suddenly change people’s fundamental personalities. True change, the stuff that turns people away from a monstrous, lonely path, takes time and a hefty amount of struggle. There’s multiple steps backwards and interminable pauses, and most of the time, people don’t change as much as they expect. But the goal is in the effort because all hope is lost once people stop trying completely.

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the A-story in the premiere follows Jimmy and Gretchen’s battle of wits regarding the “love” word. Jimmy maintains that his words don’t count because he was blackout drunk at the time and Gretchen insists that it does and that their relationship must reflect that, or in so many words. She tries to goad him into saying it again, mostly by plying him with shots, and he spends the rest of the time trying to suss out all the information about her he doesn’t already know. It’s a sweet courtship ritual that demonstrates how far the two have come since their first hookup but also how childish they still are. They may now finish at the same time in bed, evidenced by the graphic and funny sex scene that opens the season (“Why do you announce it?” Jimmy asks inquisitively when Gretchen loudly declares her orgasm), but they still squabble about nonsense like always.

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Meanwhile, Paul and Lindsay are in the midst of something resembling normalcy, which mostly amounts to Paul eagerly declaring his intent to create a life with Lindsay for the good of their family and Lindsay quietly stewing in fear and stress at the prospect of a life together. Paul pledges to give away all of his “nerd stuff” since his separate life had created discord between them, but his attempts to close the gap between them are foolhardy and self-centered. He grants Lindsay with a present, a symbol of their new life, which genuinely excites her, only that excitements curdles into disappointment and simmering rage when she discovers it’s an apron so they both can cook meals from a delivery service. Paul accurately diagnoses that Lindsay can’t spend her time partying all day now that she’s pregnant, but his solution is for him to force his interests onto her instead of legitimately getting to know the mother of his child, even if she had to get drunk to get through their wedding.

Finally, in the most heartbreaking and effective story of the episode, Edgar and Dorothy are having intimacy issues as a result of Edgar’s PTSD medication. Since they’ve switched up his meds, Edgar has become impotent and has been trying to hide it by going down on Dorothy for long stretches of time. They try to spice things up with some misguided roleplay featuring Dorothy as a Millennial who watches Hulu and came to Los Angeles to be a “YouTube star,” but it ends awkwardly. They try to discuss his libido-related issues, but when Dorothy suggests taking another pill, Edgar responds angrily, “I can’t keep taking more pills and more pills and more pills.” It’s a stunning moment of sincerity from a character whose issues has always been treated sensitively by Falk and company, but has still largely remained the series’ comic relief.

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Falk cleanly establishes a seasonal arc involving his PTSD by capturing Edgar’s conflicted response to his problems with Dorothy. On one hand, the pills are necessary for his mental health (we’ve only seen snapshots of Edgar in the throes of his illness in You’re The Worst’s origin story but they largely involve him beating up strangers and chugging vodka) and keeping him engaged with his surroundings. On the other hand, Dorothy’s presence in Edgar’s life has been a boon to his self-esteem and general adjustment, and the prospect of losing her might be too much bare. When Dorothy tells him earnestly that she’s willing to commit to their relationship, sexual limitations and all, he promptly dumps his pills in the toilet, believing that if he doesn’t, he could go down another rabbit hole of despair. Director Wendy Stanzler shoots the scene with a hurried, frantic eye, conveying Edgar’s desperation in that moment as well as a sense of foreboding that worse things are bound to come soon.

“Try Real Hard” is a solid You’re The Worst episode, a standard “get the audience up to speed” season premiere, but it mostly keeps things at low boil. Jimmy and Gretchen’s story is a Falkian spin on a classic sitcom premise, but despite the injection of his cutting wit, it never really transcends the trope. After Gretchen promises that the words always leave room for failure and that she has one foot out the door anyway, Jimmy finally relents and says he loves her, which she takes at face value despite how much room she gave him. In many ways, it’s a rehash of some of the endings in the early episodes of the series, a clean description of their respective characterizations that reads as a bit too old hat at this point.

But just before the episode’s end, Lindsay stabs Paul in his side with a knife after his drones and the sounds of Professional Birding drove her over the edge. Though You’re The Worst’s second season set a high bar, Falk and his team are only just getting started.

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Stray Observations

  • Welcome back to A.V. Club coverage of You’re The Worst. I’m your host Vikram Murthi and I never thought we’d make it this far. Let’s be careful out there.
  • Two links this week: First, check out Esther Zuckerman’s Q&A with Kether Donohue about Lindsay’s outburst. Second, check out TV Club editor Erik Adams’ interview with creator Stephen Falk, if you haven’t already.
  • The other major subplot involves Sam, Shitstain, and HoneyNutz and their secret reunion show they have planned. The gang wants the experience to be pure, so they demand no publicity whatsoever, but are appalled when no one actually shows up. Gretchen saves the day by walking across the street to a Mexican church and promising everyone in the congregation 30 dollars each if they attend. Hearing the trio repeatedly bellow, “I deserve to be blown before the Jacuzzi,” in front of confused Mexican families is the episode’s comic highlight.
  • Things Jimmy didn’t know about Gretchen: She dated two of the Baldwin brothers, competed in the U.S. Teen Nationals for showjumping, did ink work for a professional counterfeiter for 10 months, has never eaten a blueberry (because they look like doll eyes), can’t do a cartwheel, an owl tried to kill her at Bible camp (Gretchen considers herself “generally spiritual” rather than religious, much to Jimmy’s horror), and she speaks Spanish. Oh, and she doesn’t wash her legs.
  • Apparently, Bradley Cooper is a big fan of Sam and the gang’s work.
  • I could be wrong, but I believe the bouncer whom Gretchen bangs in an alley from the first season episode “PTSD” makes an appearance outside of the concert venue.
  • “I don’t have a problem! Maybe you have a ‘believing things drunk people say’ problem,” says Jimmy as he takes a drink of whiskey.
  • “Don’t you have work?” “Have you seen what I do?”
  • “I’ve had five shots. I could fly a plane after five shots.”
  • “Pharell is doing a pop-up sneaker shop here at midnight.”
  • “Crepes are just pancakes for assholes.”
  • “The unknowable is terrifying, Gretchen. That’s why humanity explores, to shine a light on the frightening dark that surrounds us.”

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