Chris Geere as Jimmy & Aya Cash as Gretchen
Photo: Byron Cohen (FXX)
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It’s summer 1997. Aspiring filmmaker Jake (Morgan Krantz) works at a run-of-the-mill video store where he stews in frustration because customers don’t share his obscure taste. He’s lonely, prematurely embittered, and, worst of all, his existential rut has become a permanent state. He longs for someone, anyone, to finally take one of his “staff picks” off the shelf. Then, one day, Gemma (Caitlin McGee) enters the store. She’s a budding cinephile and the first person to ever take an interest in Jake’s preferences. They exchange charged pleasantries. She jokingly chides him for pilfering his section from a well-circulated cult film list from Professor Soufflot of Critique du Cinema. He marvels at her stomach for blood and guts. They both wonder if they’ll ever find a copy of the extremely rare film The Intransigence of Love. They agree to get a drink sometime in the near future.

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Jake and Gemma meet again at a vigil for Princess Diana. He tells her that he’s found a copy of The Intransigence of Love and she’s ecstatic. They make plans to watch it, but they’re interrupted by Greg (Josh Ruben), Gemma’s asshole boyfriend. Jake returns to the video store grind, but keeps The Intransigence of Love on the counter just in case Gemma ever comes back. Sure enough, she returns to the video store, after hours in a rainstorm, clearly reeling from a fight with Greg. They plan to watch the movie together only for their passions to get in the way. They spend the night together, but before Jake wakes up, Gemma leaves without saying goodbye.

If this reads like the first act of a romantic comedy, then You’re The Worst creator Stephen Falk has done his job correctly. For his fifth and final season premiere, Falk forgoes the traditional “catch up” episode with his main couple and their two friends in favor of a compressed rom-com that remixes, pays homage to, and takes the piss out of 90s movies. Jake has the hair of Brian O’Halloran from Clerks and the personality of Kevin Corrigan from Walking and Talking. There’s a Singles vibe mixed with a touch of Empire Records to the video store scenes. Falk also includes a fun sequence where Jake and his fellow employee Ziggy (Brennan Murray) “hack into” Professor Soufflot’s computer that parodies films that exploited the novelty of the Internet (or “cyberspace” or “the information super highway” or “virtual reality”) like Hackers or The Net or Virtuosity. (EDIT: It turns out that whole sequence was taken from Barry Levinson’s Disclosure, a film I have not seen. I should rectify that.)  The structure of the movie-within-the-show vaguely resembles the Before trilogy. Eventually the whole thing basically turns into Notting Hill.

Falk, who wrote and directed the premiere, buries Jimmy and Gretchen until the 13-minute mark, but it quickly becomes obvious that they’re making up this story on the fly for someone else’s benefit. It’s ultimately revealed that they’re lying to two wedding planners about their meet-cute, inventing a fantasy that scans better than “We met at our mutual frenemy’s wedding and afterwards we fucked.” Falk, however, successfully maintains the illusion for the entire first half, keeping the action tight and sincere even while he’s having fun with the whole scenario. Sure, Jake and Gemma are superficial caricatures of a budding critic and filmmaker, respectively, yet Krantz and McGee play their pretensions and mutual attraction completely straight. The scene where the two of them hook up on a couch in the back of the video store feels like a version of a scene one has seen a million times and an earnest staging of two twentysomethings succumbing to desire.

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However, when Jimmy and Gretchen shatter the fourth wall, so to speak, Geere and Cash take the place of Krantz and McGee, and the whole thing organically evolves into full-blown parody. Jake and Gemma meet again on New Year’s Eve 1999 and, having survived Y2K, kiss at midnight, but most of the quippy dialogue is replaced by lines that Jimmy and Gretchen would say, e.g. “I need you to come back to my place and fuck me like yesterday.” Like any rom-com, however, another conflict emerges: Jake has a girlfriend, who whisks him away from Gemma to go to a rave. The two gaze at each other from afar, but a late appearance from Greg, who has since come out as gay, and the sudden appearance of a cab keep them at a distance.

Jake and Gemma’s story concludes at the Le France Film Festival in 2005. Gemma has become a filmmaker who has made “the first international mainstream blockbuster” and Jake is “the lead film critic for the big Paris paper.” He interrupts a press conference to ask her about the cost of her first camera (“There I was,” Gretchen narrates, “stunned to shit…”) and they quickly fall into each other’s arms to the applause of the entire press corps. Plus, Princess Diana is revealed to still be alive. They also almost fight Professor Soufflot and escape back to the video store with the help of Ziggy and a wormhole. Oh, and Ziggy has been a figment of Jake’s imagination the whole time!

While the whole story falls off the rails in the third act, Falk’s point remains sound: Those movies generally work because they take stories of real chemistry and love and paint them on a broad, fantastical canvas. At the end of the day, however, they don’t hold a candle to the “real” thing. Gretchen asks Jimmy if they keep lying to wedding planners about their relationship because they don’t have a love story. Jimmy responds, parroting a monologue from Gemma in the first act, that they have the best love story because it’s as ugly and complicated as life. There’s truth to the mess and that makes it beautiful. These two clowns will definitely be put through the ringer this season as they plan their wedding, but Falk gives them the reprieve they deserve in the premiere, especially after going through hell and back last season. It’s the beginning of the end of their love story, so why not start it on a good note?

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Stray observations

  • Welcome back, for the last time, to AVC’s You’re The Worst coverage! I’ve been covering this show since the series premiere, so I’m reasonably excited to see where these crazy kids end up.
  • One of the best sight gags in the episode is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movie recommendations from the clerks. The four I caught are reprinted below
  • 1. Skin, yes…Sand-No: Reminds me of summer camps and my hometown where everyone is totally nuts especially in the heat of the summer!
  • 2. High Anxiety: Super annoying film, don’t hate me for saying that! It literally gave me anxiety that I’ve had to see a doctor ever since! Love ya, Mel Brooks, but ummmm…
  • 3. Vives En Un Tupper: A story of an Italian rat that lives in Tupperware at the most popular restaurant in Rome. It’s an enduring story of a little girl’s secret friend and the trials and tribulations of a street rat.
  • 4. Dance of the Dolls: Full disclosure: I thought this was porn? It’s definitely not, but it’s still sexy in a screwed up way.
  • List of Porn Titles available at the video store: 1. Upside Down Sluts IX; 2. Daddy in the Kitchen; 3. Boobs Like Balls; 4. Saucy Secretaries Who Bang; 5. Any Hole is a Good Hole; 6. Big Boobie Beauties, which Jake pockets for himself.
  • Professor Soufflot’s List of Seminal Cult & Obscure Films from Critique du Cinema: 1. Mord Nachi; 2. Empty Soup; 3. The Edge Of It All; 4. Dr. Razor; 5. Whispers of Justice; 6. Dance of Dolls; 7. A Meter Too Far; 8. Vives En Up Tupper; 9. The Frog Parade; 10. The Devil in SWIA; 11. On et Off et Tel; 12. On and Off and Such; 13. Die Gesetze; 14. The Laws; 15. Bivouacs of Redemption; 16. The Intransigence of Love; 17. Der Bertrugger; 18. Urodlivaya Tetya; 19. The Ugly Auntie; 20. Smiles are For Fools; 21. A Circle in a Circle
  • Fun Fact: Series composer Adam Blau plays the vigil guitarist.
  • “I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a way to make a movie that resonates with the audience despite being filled with graphic sex and so many murders.”
  • “Because film matters! There is no other medium that holds a mirror to the human condition as nakedly as film does. It speaks directly to our pain and sorrow and joy like cinema. Nothing else comes close.” “Then you obviously haven’t listened to the new Sarah McLachlan album.”
  • The episode opens with Northside’s “Take 5,” which is an impressive deep-cut minor hit from the 90s. Check out the song in full below

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