“What Money?” finds Jimmy receiving a $700,000 check from Fox for the screenplay he’s been hired to write, and then follows the antics that ensue as he and other characters react to his windfall. A hilarious montage features Jimmy cycling through a wide range of emotions in quick succession, including glee, ecstasy, disbelief, sexual arousal, and panicked insecurity. The last of these is perhaps the funniest, not only because actor Chris Geere is great at making his eyes bug out, but also because Jimmy’s ridiculous attempts to hide the check in various places in his bedroom speaks to the plebeian background he so loathes in himself. The pretentious person Jimmy styles himself as would not react with such mania, but he’s so overcome with emotion that he can’t help but behave like a rube stuffing his mattress with cash.
Jimmy’s windfall also provides an opportunity for You’re the Worst’s most prominent recurring characters to make their first appearance this season, and they react to his windfall in predictable fashion. Paul gives Jimmy reasoned (if vaguely sexist) financial advice, Becca tries to blackmail Jimmy into giving her a cut of the money, and Vernon tries to make Jimmy invest in a half-baked business venture involving a food truck version of medical treatment.
Your mileage may vary on how amusing you find each member of this trio. Considering that they’re usually even more broadly drawn than Lindsay, I’ve often found them to be an exercise in patience rather than a consistent source of humor. You’re The Worst’s title might actually better describe these recurring characters than the main characters. I have a soft spot for Vernon because Todd Robert Anderson’s exclamatory performance imbues Vernon’s poor impulse control with infectious enthusiasm (for instance, even if the concept of “trash juice” isn’t terribly funny, I still chuckle at Vernon’s excitement over it).
Becca, however, is such a deliberately loathsome, one-note character that I find it hard to enjoy any of her appearances, despite actress Janet Varney’s general likability. For much of the series, Paul has also seemed similarly one-note: he’s a thoughtful, sentimental pushover, and thus completely wrong for Lindsay. The show moved away from this note in season four by making him into a men’s rights activist (motivating the change as a response to years of Lindsay’s manipulation), but ultimately it isn’t much of an improvement, especially because now this change has seemed to have been reversed and completely forgotten about.
Speaking of erasing previous character developments, I am also not terribly enthusiastic about Gretchen hiring Lindsay as her replacement publicist, as it undercuts the growth she achieved in her arc last season. Getting a job as a stylist and working in her own office was a part of Lindsay’s attempt to become a self-sustaining adult, thus having Gretchen simply hire her out of nepotism turns Lindsay’s plot from last season into a narrative dead end.
Likewise, while it was a funny surprise to see Lindsay’s competence as a publicist (perhaps even more so than Gretchen, although that’s a low bar to clear), Gretchen’s explanation for Lindsay’s success also rings hollow because it erases Lindsay’s growth from season four – Gretchen realizes that Lindsay is a good publicist because Lindsay has “no shame,” but this is a betrayal of Lindsay’s character, considering that last season there was an entire B plot where Lindsay was ashamed when she realized that all of her coworkers dislike her. This shame was a part of her motivation to become a better person near the season’s end. I’m not terribly invested in Lindsay, who has always been the broadest regular character, but it’s still a little frustrating to see her growth from previous seasons erased like this. Perhaps there will be more of a payoff down the line.
Other parts of the “What Money?” were more rewarding, particularly the comedy and emotional catharsis derived from characters staying true to themselves. For instance, when Becca blackmails Jimmy by threatening to send Gretchen a photo of her and Jimmy in bed together, Jimmy laughs it off. On a convention romantic comedy with conventional characters, then yes, a photo insinuating an affair would indeed create some dramatic tension, but Jimmy and Gretchen are so jaded, damaged, and blasé with one another that they’re immune to such threats, and Jimmy rightly laughs off Becca’s blackmail.
Of course, Jimmy and Gretchen are not so comfortable with one another that they share everything right away. Jimmy spends “What Money?” avoiding telling Gretchen about his new wealth because he worries it will alter their dynamic, but when he finally tells her, it provides the opportunity for another emotionally cathartic scene. Gretchen tells Jimmy the money won’t change anything because she’s never been into him for money. Even here, there are lots of jokes: Gretchen claims to need constant validation from Jimmy, not money, and when Gretchen tells him he’s already given her the greatest gift of all, she cuts off his replying, “My love?” by referring to Jimmy tasting his own ejaculate at her request (which he did at the start of the episode).
Had this scene concluded the episode, it would have resembled the cathartic end to last week’s “The One Thing We Don’t Talk About” – however, “What Money?” has more up its sleeve. Jimmy ends up using his money to pay off his house and buy Gretchen a new car. Gretchen, in her excitement, notes that they might finally be turning into grownups, the thought of which momentarily horrifies each of them. After the get into Gretchen’s new car, the episode flashes forward to some time later, with Jimmy exiting Gretchen’s now scratched up car and entering into his paid-off home, which is now in escrow.
Somber music, an ambiguous expression on car-exiting-Jimmy’s face, and Jimmy and Gretchen’s momentary horror in the previous scene all code this flash forward as melancholic. It seems designed to cast Gretchen and Jimmy’s happy future into doubt, thereby creating some suspense for the remainder of the series. Neither of them are really sure they can handle being adults, and as we’ve seen in previous seasons, they have a history of fleeing from emotional responsibility. They are damaged, and they have a tough time handling the thought of normalcy or a healthy relationship. This flash forward trades on this knowledge to make us think it spells trouble for them.
However, I can’t help but think it’s a bit of narrative sleight of hand, largely because we’ve already been down this road before, especially at the end of season three when Jimmy abandoned Gretchen. It would be a misstep to simply repeat many aspects of those now-familiar narrative beats once again. Moreover, our range of knowledge about the details of this flash forward is extremely limited. It could easily be that they’re selling the house for happy reasons, like Gretchen being pregnant and their needing more space, rather than some sort of tragedy befalling them. Thus while I appreciate this ambiguous glimpse of the future creating greater narrative stakes for the rest of the series, and while I wouldn’t put it past Stephen Falk to shy away from convention in some respects since he so often does, I still remain confident these crazy, damaged kids can overcome their insecurities and traumas and find happiness together.
Other thoughts: – Despite my disappointment over Lindsay working for Gretchen, I still enjoy Lindsay (and Kether Donohue’s performance). Her insane glee over champagne tampons, for instance, is infectious.
– Perhaps Gretchen is more aware of her financial problems than I thought last week. She happily tells Lindsay that her debt will become Jimmy’s once they marry.
– Jimmy’s self-centeredness when insisting his problems are more important than Edgar’s is a familiar note, but it’s still funny because of the contrast between their respective phrasing of Edgar’s problem (Paul F. Tompkins has kidnapped Edgar’s grandma, versus Paul F. Tompkins has taken Edward’s grandma out for dinner), and because of how Jimmy phrases his own problem: “I’m incredibly rich!”
– Paul F. Tompkins continues to be a delight as an evil version of himself. Here he calls himself “the nicest guy in comedy.” I’m not sure if that’s a moniker people actually use to describe the real PFT, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true, given his demeanor on the many podcasts he produces or guest stars on, like Threedom, the recently-concluded Spontaneanation, Doug Loves Movies, or a host of other podcasts. You’re the Worst uses his kindly persona to great advantage by making it appear to be a giant façade.
– The running joke of Sam and Shitstain recasting Honey Nutz paid many dividends. I enjoyed the new Honey Nutz’s insecurity about his persona, especially when he Scooby-Doos into the frame to introduce himself to Lindsay.
Cultured Vultures is a site by writers, for writers. We like words.