tv review

You’re the Worst Season 3 Pushes Its Characters to Their Limits

Aya Cash as Gretchen. Photo: Byron Cohen/FX

The social misfits of You’re the Worst have done some very bad things during the show’s first two seasons. Those things include: stealing wedding gifts, engaging in adultery, binge-drinking to a degree that would probably put most alcoholics in the hospital, consuming excessive amounts of trash juice (while related to binge-drinking, this transgression deserves its own category), freezing and microwaving sperm without the ejaculator’s knowledge, borrowing people’s dogs without permission, and flattening a defenseless mouse then snuffing it out permanently via carbon-monoxide poisoning. (This is only a partial list.)

But as this L.A. rom-ish-com hurtles unapologetically into its third season, following a second that took an unflinching look at Gretchen’s clinical depression, it seems fair to wonder how grim You’re the Worst will get. This question arises specifically at the end of this season’s first episode, which premieres Wednesday on FXX, when one of the four main characters does something arguably more brutal than anything that’s happened on the show before. Without spoiling what that something is, I’ll just say it was cold-blooded enough to briefly convince me I was watching a dream sequence. (The second episode confirms: Nope, not a dream.)

You’re the Worst has never drawn a line it wouldn’t cross, or if it did, it was too drunk to remember where that line was. While the aforementioned plot point arguably sets a new bar for how far showrunner Stephen Falk and the writers are willing to go, it certainly doesn’t throw the whole wickedly astute enterprise off-track. At a time when many TV comedies wade waist-deep in unfiltered amorality (Vice-Principals, Veep) or tackle melancholy themes (see: almost every comedy on television right now), You’re the Worst does both while increasingly challenging its characters to confront their darkest, most narcissistic tendencies. The members of the original Team Sunday Funday often chuck their moral compasses into the nearest sewer drain — well, not Edgar so much as Gretchen, Jimmy, and Lindsay. Based on the first two episodes of season three, the only ones FXX provided for advance review, that doesn’t look likely to change. There still isn’t much hugging on You’re the Worst. But building on last season, there actually is more learning taking place.

The semi-depraved action picks up pretty much where it left off at the end of season two. Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) are grappling with the fallout of their exchange of “I love yous,” but these two being who they are, they spend as much time disagreeing about the implications of the L-word as they do about whether Gretchen should wash her legs. (“Who has the time?” Gretchen wonders.) Edgar (Desmin Borges) is still involved with Dorothy (Collette Wolfe), but finding that the side effects of his PTSD meds are inhibiting his performance in the bedroom. And Lindsay (Kether Donohue), who spent much of last season trying to win back husband Paul (Allan McLeod), is settling back into married life as a now-pregnant wifey. Translation: She’s already feeling stifled and eager to extricate herself from the mind-numbing boredom of domesticated coupledom — extremely eager.

As the reference to PTSD and meds suggests, You’re the Worst continues to explore the challenges of confronting mental illness, most notably via Gretchen, who begins talk therapy with more kicking and screaming than actual talking. This comedy wasn’t put on television as a public service, but the more it deals with this particular subject, the more it feels like it might be performing that function. While Gretchen says she wants to beat depression — or, even better, “win” depression — her therapist (Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley, who joins the cast this season) insists that what she actually has to do is manage her depression. “Self-improvement is a lifelong process,” she says. This is hardly earth-shattering information to anyone who’s ever sat across from an analyst and unpacked her emotional baggage, but You’re the Worst handles it with such refreshing matter-of-factness — “Being vulnerable makes me angry,” Gretchen later blurts/confesses — that it feels revelatory. Being a happy, considerate, well-adjusted human is something that society says is supposed to be our default setting. But the truth is that becoming that type of person actually requires effort and, for many, painful introspection.

Lest anyone fear that You’re the Worst has suddenly turned into a version of In Treatment, please know that this series continues to excel on all the black comedic levels it has before. The dialogue is still sharp as a serrated knife, the situations in which the characters find themselves still amuse and surprise (favorite of the season so far: Edgar’s decision to use his improv skills to help homeless people write better signs), and the cast remains uniformly terrific.

As important as Edgar and Lindsay are to the show, at its perverse heart, You’re the Worst is still principally a show about the two people portrayed by Geere and Cash, who can transform from self-assured wiseass to confused bundle of self-doubt with just a frown or addled blink. Gretchen and Jimmy are still wrestling with whether it’s possible to fall in love while remaining skeptical about the entire concept of romantic partnership. But as this series progresses, it’s clear that You’re the Worst is as much about coming to terms with one’s own personality and temperament as it is about accepting the flaws of a partner. In its first season, the you’re in You’re the Worst was seemingly directed at the other loathsome human beings who roam around on planet Earth. Now, three seasons in, the twisted Angelenos on this show are realizing more and more that “the worst” might be themselves, and it’s their responsibility to try to be better.

YTW S3 Pushes Its Characters to Their Limits