The toxically selfish characters in You’re the Worst are like photonegatives of saccharine rom-com protagonists, and their exaggerated reactions to universal dating experiences imbue the series with a grim sort of surrealism. Their behavior may be extreme, but their obstacles are commonplace: moving in, settling down, and, in the latest season, breaking up.
In the wake of Jimmy (Chris Greere) proposing to Gretchen (Aya Cash) in the season-three finale and immediately “ghosting” her, the new season finds him hiding out in a desert retirement community with his phone turned off. As Jimmy hangs around with his geriatric cohorts, Gretchen processes his disappearance by hunkering down in her apartment for three months, obsessing over rock radio and dabbling in crack—this show’s version of coping with heartbreak with a pint of ice cream and crappy daytime TV.
The season begins three months after Jimmy disappeared, allowing the show’s writers to plunder the depths of Gretchen and Jimmy’s despair for humor without dwelling in the immediate aftermath of their dissolution. Jimmy’s patchy beard and grimy trailer tell the story of his hiatus from the real world, just as Gretchen’s addled speech and incoherent outbursts (especially impromptu recitations of FM-radio staples) illustrate her deterioration.
The show’s characters are like photonegatives of typically saccharine rom-com protagonists.
With Jimmy gone and Gretchen wallowing in heartbreak, the usually helpless Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and Edgar (Desmin Borges) are forced to be independent. Lonely and overwhelmed by their newfound roles as nominal grown-ups, they enter an obviously doomed casual sex arrangement. But their scenes together have little new to say about friends with benefits, and the sex between them lacks for the bawdy humor or depraved catharsis of similar hookups in You’re the Worst. Though they’ve flirted in the past, Lindsay and Edgar’s romance feels rushed and convenient, as though the writers couldn’t decide what to do with the characters without their friends around to annoy.
The writers mercifully move Jimmy back into Gretchen’s orbit before their darkly humorous diversions become simply depressing and the novelty of their isolation fades. In the short time before Jimmy heads back to Los Angeles, his desert stay provides fish-out-of-water laughs, especially in his warmly combative relationship with his grizzled neighbor. But as Jimmy pees in bottles and masturbates to vintage porn, the humor in his squalor quickly wanes, and we mostly wait to see how he will eventually confront Gretchen.
When Jimmy resurfaces with an inappropriately curt text message (“Hey…”), Gretchen’s hysteria is supplanted by a smoldering rage. She reacts to every minor stimuli in her walled-off isolation as if every nerve were exposed, and Cash capably shifts between vulnerability and mania, convincing us that at any moment Gretchen could burn a bridge, accidentally hurt herself, or collapse into a sobbing puddle. The scenes that follow Jimmy’s text are pregnant with the potential for comic disaster.
Until now, You’re the Worst has typically mixed pitch-black humor with moments of surprising tenderness between Jimmy and Gretchen. The show’s writers have stripped the lovers of that tenderness and installed in its place an increased sense of volatility. Gretchen’s manic energy and renewed contempt for Jimmy imbues the series with more unpredictability than ever. Which makes sense, as Jimmy and Gretchen have turned coupling into an unending routine of cataclysm and make-up sex, and their uncoupling is darkly funny, poignant, and more explosive as anything that came before.