In our review of last week’s episode, “The Pin in My Grenade,” I noted that You’re the Worst often blends parody with sincerity, and that this blend is a large part of the show’s fun. This week’s episode, “The One Thing We Don’t Talk About,” highlights that blend of qualities through the behavior of its characters. Frequently, the characters on You’re the Worst tread the line between caricature and plausibility. Characters appear to be very broadly-drawn, with wildly outlandish behavior, only for that behavior to be grounded or course-corrected by occasional bursts of emotional sincerity, vulnerability, or insight into their mental states. Suddenly, the caricature falls by the wayside to reveal the humanity underneath.
It’s a balance that took some time to get right, especially with regards to Lindsay and Edgar, who were cartoonishly broad in the first season, but who were depicted with more subtlety and nuance in subsequent seasons as we were granted more access to their emotional interiority and invited to sympathize with them. Gretchen and Jimmy have always had greater balance between their ridiculousness and their humanity, but even they occasionally tilt more in one direction or the other.
Throughout much of “The One Thing We Don’t Talk About,” Gretchen is pure cartoon. In the prologue alone, she’s unable to resist a possible wedding venue both when she confirms that it’s the site of a famous, fictional murder, and when she and Jimmy successfully have speedy sex in a backroom (a crucial venue component for Gretchen, who anticipates needing to have sex with Jimmy between the ceremony and reception because they’ll be too drunk at the end of the night). When Jimmy balks at the venue’s price, Gretchen nonchalantly tells Jimmy to just put it on a credit card, revealing little comprehension of the crippling debt she’s likely accumulated through irresponsible credit card habits. To cap it off, she exits the scene after declaring she can take care of herself, only to sheepishly return to have Jimmy point her in the correct direction. While her sheepishness hints at some level of self-awareness (and creates what I thought was the funniest beat in the scene), Gretchen’s broadness here really pushes the limits of my investment in the character, and creates tonal whiplash when contrasted with Jimmy’s pragmatic concerns.
Gretchen’s behavior in this prologue works to some degree – Aya Cash is good at playing Gretchen’s immaturity – but I often find You’re The Worst most enjoyable when it balances the broadness with heftier does of sincerity and humanity. For example, Gretchen is equally cartoonish throughout the bulk of the “The One Thing We Don’t Talk About,” which features her interviewing publicists to replace her now that she’s taken her old boss’s job. However, her outlandish behavior in this plot works better than her behavior in the prologue, largely because it receives two plausible motivations: Gretchen is using the interviews to avoid calling her mom, and she’s modeling her ludicrous behavior on the clientele that her publicist candidates would need to manage.
Thus, she behaves like an insane savant when interviewing the job candidates, treating the hiring process like a reality show competition. Much like her character more generally, her means of assessment tread the line between ludicrous and astute: she eliminates one tryhard for being too obsequious, and another for blanching at the thought of day drinking. However, her behavior here works because her callousness is counterbalanced the necessities of the job: going to a bar in the middle of the day satisfies her whims first and foremost, but it’s also a legitimate test of the candidates, who will need to possess good social skills. The same could be said of her later indulgence in all of her worst impulses (making out with strangers, dancing on the bar, starting a fight, and generally ignoring, belittling, or demeaning the candidates): she’s giving the job candidates a facsimile of what a real client would be like.
Like much of the rest of her work, the test she’s putting the candidates through is largely a byproduct of her doing whatever the hell she wants. After all, we routinely saw that she wasn’t a committed publicist and that her professional success was often happenstance, the result of negligence or indifference rather that dedication or effort (and if she’s any measure of what it takes to be a publicist, then perhaps tryhards need not apply). However, plausibly motivating her behavior as a test makes her seem less like a cartoon, and makes her actions funnier.
Even her decision to go to the bar is motivated by more grounded character psychology: she wants to avoid calling her mom to tell her about the wedding. Lindsay gets a moment to shine here when she role-plays as Gretchen’s mom to give Gretchen practice at breaking the news to her. Lindsay’s emotional intelligence is evident here, as she plays the role – or Gretchen’s nightmare version – so perfectly that Gretchen ends up screaming at her.
As if to counterbalance Gretchen’s wackiness, the end of the episode returns her to a more human version of the character. The last remaining publicist candidate has a heart-to-heart with Gretchen, encouraging her to call her mother. She does, and later reports to Jimmy (and us) that it went really well. Her vulnerability in calling her mother, and the love and affection she and Jimmy show toward one another in the next scene are like palate cleansers, restoring my sympathy for the character, and nicely paving the way for the joke that caps the episode: she told her mom she’s marrying Boone, her love interest from last season when she and Jimmy were on a break. The joke works, like a lot of You’re the Worst, because it finds that sweet spot where the sincerity and the broadness reinforce and balance one another, the former enabling the latter to land with such comedic force.
– Jimmy’s story for the season is still picking up steam– he’s been hired to adapt his book into a screenplay. So far it’s been an opportunity to make some half-hearted jokes about the film industry. I’ll have more to say about it if or when it becomes more clever, or the A plot of an episode. Here, it’s most notable for providing some symmetry to “The One Thing We Don’t Talk About”: Gretchen interviews job candidates, while Jimmy interviews for a job.
– It’s always a pleasure to see Paul F. Tompkins in anything, and I’m excited by the prospect of him playing an evil version of himself as he torments Edgar. The episode even resorts to some very unbalanced framing reminiscent of Mr. Robot when he offers to take Edgar under his wing, suggesting right away that something is off about his proposition (along with the calculation in his eyes during an extreme close-up). More PFT, please!
– One of the funnier Los Angeles jokes in the episode is when Jimmy claims to have never heard of Culver City before (it’s a western city within Los Angeles County, like Santa Monica or Beverly Hills, and like those places, it’s often thought of as simply a part of Los Angeles). It’s a better joke than last week’s, where Jimmy is irritated about having to drive to the west side, because it’s more about Jimmy than it is about Los Angeles. Jimmy is either feigning ignorance of Culver City’s existence, or he’s actually unaware of it, but either way, it’s a funny joke at his expense – he’s either so pretentious that he pretends not to know where it is, or he’s so cloistered that he doesn’t know anything about half of his own city. It’s also a fresher take on the Los Angeles sprawl than last week’s, suggesting that it is perhaps possible, if unlikely, that an adult living in Los Angeles for some years might not know of Culver City.