One of the defining characteristics of “You’re the Worst,” Stephen Falk’s brilliantly underrated anti-rom-com, is that it embraces and subverts conventions at the same time. The story’s central protagonists — arrogant British novelist Jimmy (Chris Geere, “After Earth”) and selfish music rep Gretchen (Aya Cash, “Easy”) — are essentially the antithesis of a gung-ho healthy relationship. And yet, with their toxic personalities and regressive attitudes, they’re made for one another.
Throughout the series — now entering its fourth season — the two have reached almost every possible “normal couple” milestone: moving in together, declaring their love and proposing marriage. But with each milestone, Jimmy and Gretchen found themselves in quiet emotional turmoil, both uncertain for their future together and unable to properly communicate their anxieties. Given how Jimmy impulsively backtracked his proposal to Gretchen and abandoned her in last season’s (literal and figurative) cliffhanger finale, the prospect for their reconciliation looks dim. Fortunately, despite the abrupt end to their already fragile romance, there may be some compelling soul-searching on the horizon for this season.
Unlike the chaotic, sometimes wayward season three, the newest season of “You’re the Worst” opens on a much more confident note. The premiere’s hour-long two-parter, “It’s Been,” allows some breathing room for the show’s often fast-paced setup. Each part, both written and directed by Falk, cleverly splits time between Jimmy and Gretchen three months after their unexpected breakup, and how they’ve coped with the trauma of ending their relationship.
The stunning first half showcases a scruffy and laconic Jimmy adjusting to a completely new environment in upstate California. Squatting in a trailer park community for seniors, Jimmy has chosen a simpler life for himself, going so far as to completely disconnect from technology altogether. Even with his newfound bachelor lifestyle, he still projects an unfulfilled desire for connection onto Bert (Raymond J. Berry), a misanthropic local who would rather watch crime procedurals with Jimmy than get boba tea with his chummy neighbors.
During an entertaining subplot in which Jimmy helps Bert retrieve his stolen car keys, Jimmy finally sees just how reckless Bert can be on his own. He realizes he must not only re-enter civilization for the sake of his own sanity, but also confront the issues he left behind so he doesn’t grow into a detached hermit like Bert. This uneasiness is best exemplified when Jimmy decides to turn his dusty iPhone back on, only to be hit with an anxiety-inducing symphony of text message and voicemail notifications from Gretchen.
While Jimmy comes to his senses, the second half of the episode finds Gretchen in a manic state. Her portion of the episode, though hilarious and equally harrowing, is not nearly as emotionally potent as the first part. Instead of shrinking back into a depression like in season two, Gretchen opts for a hyperactive persona, which includes speedily reciting ‘90s hits like the Cranberries’ “Zombie” and the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” smoking a bowl of crack and drawing dinosaur murals to pass the time. The episode’s funniest scenes occur during Gretchen’s story, but Gretchen’s compulsive craving for stimulation falls somewhat flat in comparison to Jimmy’s dramatic plot. She ends up crawling back to her ex, Ty (Stephen Schneider, “Broad City”), making for a plausible yet predictable character development.
Most of the winning moments in this episode belong to the series’ incredible supporting players, the hedonistic Lindsay (Kether Donohue, “Pitch Perfect”) and the sincere, pot-smoking veteran Edgar (Desmin Borges, “Carrie Pilby”). In contrast to Jimmy and Gretchen’s individual and joint dysfunction, Lindsay and Edgar work well together and on their own, with Lindsay temping as a fashion assistant and Edgar as a sketch comedy writer. But after Lindsay and Edgar end up in bed together, the two inadvertently become friends with benefits, a deal that feels like a subtle foreshadowing of relationship problems ahead for these characters. But it’s good to see that Lindsay and Edgar have found some inner peace after going through some emotional turbulence in previous seasons.
“It’s Been” continues to display “You’re The Worst”’s trademark mix of black comedy and pathos, furthering Falk’s nuanced portrayal of modern romance and mental illness. It would have been nice if Gretchen had the ample plot that Jimmy had, especially since her story doesn’t hit as many strong emotional beats. Regardless of the episode’s slight imbalance, it conveys a solid illustration of the limitations of their post-breakup solitude. Like Jimmy and Gretchen, there’s a strong, lonesome heart beating underneath the show’s cynical, twisted shell. The characters are continuing to develop into complex people and veer away from the self-destructive behavior that dictated their actions before. It’ll be hard to know how long the show will last, given how it primarily revolves around the fate of Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship. But here’s hoping that “You’re the Worst” keeps being the best.