Even though it’s early in the series’ run, it’s clear that You’re the Worst excels when it indulges in its laidback vibe. Chris Geere and Aya Cash are compelling enough leads that it’s enjoyable just watching them exchange witticisms and insults. Take the first scene in “Insouciance” for example: Not only does it re-establish Jimmy and Gretchen’s dynamic from the pilot—playful and coarse, yet a little more thin-skinned than either would like to admit—but it also effortlessly introduces the minor rift between them without blowing it up to broad sitcom proportions. As Gretchen is about to leave Jimmy’s house, she mentions that her period has arrived two days early—“You’re the one who smacked the side of the ketchup bottle over and over”—and Jimmy casually says that he’ll see her in five days or so. Gretchen is clearly hurt by this remark, but what’s great about this scene is how Cash subtly conveys her feelings. She gives Jimmy a couple brief, understated looks of disappointment that eventually get under his skin, but it’s not too big of a reaction for him to stop masturbating after she leaves.
In fact, the most impressive part of “Insouciance” is how much it sets up a huge clichéd blowup between Jimmy and Gretchen, but sidesteps it at every turn. Jimmy takes Gretchen to an expensive restaurant out of guilt for the way he acted (spurred by Edgar who’s slowly becoming the closest thing to the series’ beating heart) and Gretchen agrees to go because she’s curious to see Jimmy in an environment other than the bedroom. Their respective motivations coupled with their discomfort around each other in public make the scene ripe for a big fight, but instead Falk takes the two of them right up to edge before retreating at the last second: Just when they’re about to get into it at a communal table (in an expensive restaurant no less), the newly married Vernon and Becca show up and Gretchen flees the restaurant so as not to confront them with Jimmy present.
What follows is remarkable in what’s supposedly a raunchy, anti-romantic comedy: a frank, reasonable discussion of hurt feelings and expectations. Jimmy finds Gretchen in an alley outside the restaurant and confronts her about her behavior. He says he took her on a date because he thought she was mad at him, to which Gretchen responds with a fantastic line that perfectly sums up not only her feelings but also her character: “I didn’t want you to automatically dismiss me as a goddamn viable human being to share air with the second I wasn’t available for sex, but I’m not like mad-mad.” It’s a convincing response from Gretchen who has enough self-respect to honestly express her feelings but is smart enough to know what she was getting into. She’s mad at Jimmy, but not mad enough to sit in a restaurant and fight with him, especially if she might have to explain their relationship to people they know.
But now it’s Geere’s turn to express hurt feelings through subtle changes in expression: When Jimmy tries to curry Gretchen’s favor by saying he’s glad that she hates the restaurant as much as he does, Gretchen admits that she actually loves the place but just not with him, and in response, Jimmy winces for half a second while still retaining his trademark smirk. These brief moments of vulnerability are crucial because they illustrate how Jimmy and Gretchen’s defenses falter when placed under close scrutiny. It makes the characters that much more believable and the show that much more human.
However, “Insouciance” also presents a few issues that You’re the Worst hasn’t yet figured out. For one thing, the episode is padded with scenes that don’t really add up to anything, including a pretty lame subplot that fizzles out as soon as it’s introduced—Jimmy goes to his local bookstore and tries to put copies of his book in a prominent, noticeable place in the store but is caught by the owner. While the series’ is most comfortable when it allows the characters to talk between each other, it might be too loosely structured to just rely on chemistry and clever writing. “Insouciance” is plotless to a fault and it shows whenever there’s a supporting character on screen. I like Desmin Borges and Shane Francis Smith quite a bit as Edgar and Killian, but they’re in the episode mostly because they have to be, not because they naturally fit into the ensemble. Hopefully the series will figure out how to integrate these characters better; it’s a shame that the seams of the writing start to show whenever the episode leaves Jimmy and Gretchen.
But possibly the most obvious weakness that You’re the Worst offers is its forced resolutions. The last scene with Jimmy and Gretchen watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the theater is cringeworthy in a bad way. Not only is it too tidy and cute of an ending, but also it’s completely unnecessary. It serves to reiterate that Gretchen and Jimmy have feelings for each other that go beyond their “friends with benefits” arrangement, which the episode already accomplished before Stephen Falk had to bluntly underline it. It also features the broadest acting on the part of Geere and Cash, who exchange overly cute glances and exaggeratedly obnoxious behavior. It’s almost as if the scene was tacked on just so it could restate the premise for any audience members who didn’t remember it.
Yet, I’m still rooting for You’re the Worst because when it settles into a groove, it’s a genuinely witty, sweet comedy that treats its characters like adults even when they’re acting like children. It’s also surprisingly mature about issues that could be handled juvenilely, like measuring expectations in regards to sex and dating. Most importantly, I get the feeling that the series isn’t playing all the cards it has to offer. It’s not there yet, but You’re the Worst could be something special down the road: a comedy about breaking down the walls we build around us brick by brick.
- The scene at the restaurant is the funniest the series has produced so far and also its most illuminating. Jimmy tries to impress Gretchen by shitting on everything at the restaurant, but she only smiles and halfheartedly agrees. It’s not until they’re both yelling at two people who bumped into them when they really begin to click.
- The other telling moment in that restaurant scene is Gretchen and Jimmy going through first date motions without really knowing how. Gretchen tries to toast her drink with Jimmy’s but chickens out at the last second. Jimmy tries to put her arm around Gretchen’s on the way to the table, but can’t quite seem to maneuver it.
- The scene with Edgar and Killian is actually really nice even if doesn’t really have a purpose. I want those two to buddy up and have their own side adventures.
- The shot of Gretchen in the alley with a 40 in one hand and a can of chips in the other is priceless and eerily true to life.
- Killian doesn’t have a phone because his parents are afraid he’ll become a YouTube celebrity. They’re not wrong.
- It probably says a lot about me that I find Jimmy and Gretchen’s opinions on Ferris Bueller to easily be the worst thing about both characters. Cameron’s the villain? Get out of here with your Campbellian storytelling nonsense.
- Jimmy’s Daily Wisdom: “Dishonesty to spare someone’s feelings belittle everyone involved, but dishonesty to get free stuff is just smart economics.”
- “I’ll leave the village until my moon is over.”
- “You’re not dining with them, you’re just dining at the same table as them.” “You’re really cutting with a semantic Ginsu knife there, aren’t you?”
- “It turns out parents don’t really appreciate a grown man driving slowly past playgrounds over and over.”