At its core, You’re The Worst is a romantic comedy about a misfit romantic couple, Gretchen and Jimmy, each of whom have a variety psychological issues and social hang-ups, but who for a long time collectively despised the thought of being a romantic couple, and who relish bewildering and upsetting others through their violation of social taboos, norms, and conventions. It’s fitting, then, that occasionally the series itself departs from its own norms and conventions, surprising viewers with wildly unconventional approaches to a given episode’s story. Often these departures from the norm are refreshing and successful, allowing us to understand the characters in a new light, or rewarding the depth of understanding we’ve already achieved.
The season five premiere, The Intransigence of Love, is one such episode. One would expect the episode to begin by showing whatever the series’ main characters are up to, but the instead the first half is devoted to depicting the romance of two completely new characters, Jake, a video store clerk, and Gemma, a film school student. Moreover, their romance clearly takes place in the mid-1990s: not only do the hairstyles and costumes scream it from the rooftops, but Jakes’s video store is full of VHS tapes, the latest releases including Airheads (1994) and Twister (1996). One of the first questions that comes to mind: how in the world could this story possibly relate to Jimmy and Gretchen’s 2010s romance?
In unexpectedly introducing new characters, The Intransigence of Love seems to echo the season two episode LCD Soundsystem, which did something similar, albeit in a more jarring fashion. That episode introduced an entirely new married couple and followed them around as if they had been the main characters the entire time – we pick up in the middle of their lives. The point of this abrupt introduction is revealed later, when we learn that this depiction of the married couple is Gretchen’s fantasy: they’re a real couple in Jimmy’s neighborhood, and she’s become emotionally attached to them (or her fantasy of them) as a way of coping with a recurrence of her clinical depression. (I wrote about that episode and a couple of surrounding episodes here.)
This abrupt introduction soon becomes less important when Jake and Gemma’s story proves captivating in its own right – touching in some places, bittersweet in others – and when it becomes clear almost immediately that Jake is an analogue for Jimmy. Like Jimmy, Jake is cruel and dismissive of those he deems to be plebeians, and he sees himself as having a special (pretentious) connection with and understanding of his chosen art, cinema (for Jimmy it’s literature).
Halfway through The Intransigence Of Love, it’s revealed that Jake and Gemma’s romance is actually a story Jimmy (and in the second half, Gretchen) is making up on the spot when a pair of wedding planners ask him and Gretchen to tell the story of their romance, ostensibly to better enable the planning of Jimmy and Gretchen’s wedding. Disgusted by the very thought of such sentimentalism, and dismissive of the notion that the wedding planners could come close to understanding a romance as fraught and counter-intuitive as theirs has been, Jimmy and Gretchen delightedly take the piss out of the wedding planners by spinning a yarn about “Jake” and “Gemma’s” romance.
Retrospectively, there are many hints that Jake and Gemma’s romance is an ad hoc story Jimmy is making up for someone he finds contemptible, particularly as it trades heavily in romantic comedy conventions: Jake and Gemma have a cloying meet cute centered on their shared tastes in movies, Gemma has shades of a manic pixie dream girl, Jake has a sidekick, Ziggy, who nudges him in the right direction, Gemma has an excessively obnoxious wrong-for-her dude-bro boyfriend that serves as an impediment to her and Jake’s happy romantic union, and so on.
What’s great about all of these clichés is that Jimmy actually executes some of them well, which is in accordance with the reception of his novels in the world of You’re the Worst. He struggles with writing a new book in seasons two and three, and eventually he makes what he thinks are transgressive and profound breakthroughs, but he’s then crestfallen to discover his book has been well-received as conventional erotica. Despite his desire to escape it, he’s actually good at convention, and the story he’s making up in The Intransigence Of Love partly attests to it.
(Of course, he also introduces his own weird proclivities and asides, which further serve as hints that something is not quite right before we’re explicitly told that Jimmy is making this up on the spot. One example is the lengthy sequence where Jake and Ziggy pirate a copy of a rare film from a made up French film professor, Andres-Jacques Soufflot, complete with a ludicrous VR sequence that far outstrips the actual capabilities of 1990s internet interfaces – and which itself is rife with references to films like Disclosure and The Matrix. Likewise, for seemingly no reason, there is also a scene that takes place at a memorial for Princess Diana.)
We finally learn that this is a story Jimmy has been making up when Gretchen chimes in, objecting to Gemma leaving Jake in the middle of the night. Her objection, of course, stems from the real Jimmy having left the real Gretchen at the end of season three. When she takes over the narration, the fake romance takes on the tenor of Gretchen’s character as lots of hilarious, completely implausible details work their way into the margins, and the clichés become even more glaring. Among my favorites are Gemma having directed, as one member of the press puts it, “the first international mainstream cult blockbuster,” with the film premiering at the the 2005 “Le France” film festival (set in the most cartoonish version of Paris since Amélie), and Jake having become, in his words, “the lead critic at the big Paris paper.” Not to be outdone, Jimmy takes over for a coda, where to Gretchen’s delight he tacks on a nonsensical twist ending that combines Rick and Morty with Fight Club: Ziggy saves them from a vengeful Professor Soufflot via a wormhole before revealing that he never existed, and we see Jimmy-as-Jake reenacting earlier scenes sans Ziggy.
However, despite these absurdities, real emotion also permeates both Jimmy and Gretchen’s halves of the story, as it touches on some of the truths of their emotional journey in the previous four seasons: growing close, falling in love despite themselves, hurting and misunderstanding one another, accepting each other anyway, seeing ugliness and beauty in each other in equal measure. It’s telling, for instance, that the actors playing Jake and Gemma are replaced by Chris Geere (who plays Jimmy) and Aya Cash (who plays Gretchen) in Gretchen’s version, as the story is actually about them, despite their ridiculous asides, fabrications, and jokes at the wedding planners’ expense.
The last scene of The Intransigence Of Love underscores these truths: after brushing off the wedding planners, Jimmy reassures Gretchen that they really do have the best love story because, as Gretchen described Jake and Gemma, it’s “messy and complicated,” but it’s also true, and thus beautiful. Overall, The Intransigence of Love is a delightful start to the fifth and final season of You’re the Worst, and a fair representation of the show’s ability to be both cynical and genuine in equal measures. Here’s hoping the rest of the season is able to match its humor and sentimentality.
– Not to be outdone by the fake story they just told, the moment of love and affection between Jimmy and Gretchen at the end of the episode is also scored to the overwrought romantic music of Gretchen’s half of the story.
– I was personally delighted to recognize at least one of the shooting locations used in The Intransigence Of Love: the video store where Jake works was clearly shot in the real-life Los Angeles staple, Cinefile, on the corner of Santa Monica and Sawtelle. It was redressed it to make it look like the 1990s, and some of the shelves were removed, but the architecture and basic layout is unmistakable.
– The opening of The Intransigence Of Love also does a good job of featuring the great lengths the set designers went to in recreating a 1990s video store vibe, with a rapid fire montage of the store’s many little details: a staff recommendation sections complete with index cards briefly describing the films, playful late policy and “Be Back Soon” signs, and spunky modifications of movie posters and cardboard cutouts. Great work here.
– Another tiny detail to delight over: the names of the fake seminal cult films populating Professor Sufflot’s list. Some of my favorites: A Circle In A Circle, Empty Soup, and On And Off And Such (which also appears a second time on the list, in French).
– More hilarious nineties faux-nostalgia: Jake’s chain wallet momentarily impedes him from taking off his pants during the sex scene, and a reference to Crystal Pepsi. Wherefore art thou, Surge soda?
– The confrontation with Professor Soufflot looks like it was shot in downtown Los Angeles’s Biltmore Hotel, although I’m not 100% certain.
– Other great, clichéd touches in Gretchen’s half of the story: poor timing leading to missed connections, an overflowing film score stamping out any possible subtleties, and of course, Princess Diana having been alive all along.
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