After the season premiere, “A Very Good Boy” is easily this season’s next-strongest episode. It features a pair of parallel plots where both Jimmy and Gretchen feel uncomfortable in their usual patterns of behavior. Gretchen challenges Jimmy’s self-image as a Hemingway-esque, bad boy writer by calling him a stable, “very good boy,” so he spends the episode trying to escape from the label through various meager acts of rebellion. Gretchen, meanwhile, feels like a fraud in her new job when she discovers she’s woefully unprepared for its responsibilities, a feeling amplified by Gretchen’s intimidating new boss Yvette.
One would think Gretchen would be wary of challenging Jimmy’s self-image, given his history of extreme reactions when she’s inadvertently done so in the past (like, say, Jimmy abandoning her at the thought of being a part of a family together). But then again, Gretchen never has been one to think through the consequences of her actions. Plus, it yields a funny scene where insult is added to Jimmy’s injury when even Edgar laughs at the idea of Jimmy as a bad boy. While Edgar often behaves naively and childlike, we’ve seen him struggle with his PTSD, and as Gretchen casually reminds us here, he’s killed people. These demons are just as challenging as anything Jimmy has had to face.
In any case, both Jimmy and Gretchen’s plots provide funny performative, stylistic, or narrative moments. Some of my favorites include a brief montage conveying Jimmy’s slow realization that his fastidious writing habits mean that he does in fact like to follow rules (even imposing them on himself), as well as Gretchen meekly eating a free sandwich at a company meeting while the rest of the higher-ups peruse dossiers on potential clients. Gretchen only realizes in the moment that her promotion means 1) she now needs to come to meetings prepared, and 2) she should no longer be thrilled by the prospect of free work food. Jimmy’s scattershot attempts to be a bad boy are also funny because his discomfort leads him to oscillate wildly between mild annoyances and potential felonies. One minute he’s eating questionable street food or being rude to kids, and the next he’s almost stealing a laptop or pushing a man into traffic.
Even more satisfying, however, is how each plot resolves by introducing variations on television sitcom conventions. Gretchen is mortified at having pitched a seemingly terrible-but-mesmerizing rapper named Nock Nock as a new client, and is prepared to be fired when Yvette summons her for an after-hours meeting. The scene seems poised to become yet another iteration of the familiar trope where a character thinks they’ve failed, but has actually unknowingly or inadvertently succeeded. You’re the Worst has even prepared us to expect this kind of scene, given that plots involving Gretchen’s work always seem to end with her failing upward.
However, the scene pivots away from this familiarity when Nock Nock isn’t revealed as a miraculously perfect client that bails out Gretchen’s lack of effort. Instead, the scene pivots into a different kind of convention: the “come to Jesus” moment. Gretchen melts down in front of Yvette, but Yvette is sympathetic; she sees herself in Gretchen, and thus knows Gretchen’s story, expertly and succinctly diagnosing Gretchen’s impostor syndrome. Yvette spots Gretchen’s bullshit and calls her on it, but then motivates her to actually put some effort into her work. This is refreshing in itself, but the scene is also reflexively funny for the speed and efficiency with which it establishes a warm mentor-mentee relationship between the characters. A lot of this work is accomplished in a single line, when Yvette knowingly asks Gretchen, “Bad mom, huh?”
Jimmy’s plot also resolves in a way that is both conventional and slightly unconventional simultaneously. He finally finds an acceptable circumstance in which to be a bad boy when his wedding florist takes him to a punk show. Jimmy lets loose in a mosh pit, and the resulting exhilaration leads Jimmy to a fairly conventional realization about the value of being true to yourself, but he does so in a very idiosyncratic way. Rather than learning a lesson about self-acceptance, instead Jimmy’s takeaway is that the thing he was worried about is stupid, as are those who would concern themselves with it. Jimmy leapfrogs past self-acceptance and lands in smug superiority instead. It’s a hilarious conclusion to draw from this experience, but also a very Jimmy one, and in being true to his character, it’s also unconventional. It’s a wonderful example of what You’re The Worst can do when it’s operating on all cylinders.
Jimmy’s soliloquy is also funny because the florist who brought him to the show is so enraptured by his self-confidence and clarity that she starts to give him a blowjob before he even ends his speech, and because Jimmy is so wrapped up in his own words that he doesn’t even realize it until he’s nearly finished talking. Once again, his self-centeredness is used for great comedic effect. The blowjob is not only funny for being a suprise, but also because it undermines his epiphany by actually making him into somewhat of a bad boy.
The blowjob also serves one final function: it provides further substance to the hypothesis that the ambiguous flash forward at the end of “What Money?” suggests an unhappy future for Gretchen and Jimmy. Could this blowjob be the thing that jeopardizes Jimmy and Gretchen’s wedding? Possibly. The beginning of “A Very Bad Boy” doubles down on the ambiguity of last week’s flash forward by opening with another one, this time featuring Gretchen checking into a hotel alone and exhibiting some atypical behavior, like locking all of the alcohol inside the mini-fridge and throwing away the key, and then closing the blinds in the middle of the day and climbing into bed.
As with last week’s flash forward, this one is also scored with melancholic music. However, Gretchen seems contented in this scene, even happy, as if she’s turning over a new leaf. Notably, she also walks past a floral arrangement in the hotel lobby that is remarkably similar to the one Jimmy chooses when he first meets the florist. Rather than an unhappy future, this flash forward seems just as likely to be showing us some point surrounding the wedding. The lack of context makes it difficult to mount strong hypotheses, but the guessing game is part of the fun here.
Other thoughts: – Jimmy’s soliloquy at the end of the episode is also nicely structured: it begins in a way designed to make us think he’s going to talk about learning to accept himself, but midway through there’s a sudden turn that makes it clear this is not the lesson he’s learned.
– In the middle of the episode there’s a scene where Gretchen walks through her office while everyone seems to be laughing at her as they watch Nock Nock videos. It nicely conveys the anxiety of being unprepared for something and getting called out.
– One of the C stories in “A Very Good Boy” involves Edgar and Lindsay attempting to turn their friends with benefits arrangement into a real romantic relationship, but their date is so awkward that they both try to sneak out almost immediately. It’s a nice development, because it shows us how much they’ve changed from early in the series, where one of the plots involved Edgar’s unreciprocated feelings for Lindsay. Here, they make the mature decision to stop hooking up in order to create space for romantic possibilities with other people.
– Aside from their character growth, Lindsay and Edgar’s date is also well shot, because the style helps to emphasize the awkwardness: the camera is placed directly between the characters as they sit across from one another, and alternates back and forth as they speak directly into it. It’s very reminiscent of Wes Anderson films. The camera is positioned slightly too high as well, leaving some awkward space above each of their heads, somewhat like the Mr. Robot-lite framing in the scene with Paul F. Tompkins in “The Pin in My Grenade.”
– There’s another C plot here involving Becca and Vernon running a confidence scheme on Paul, where they pretend to artificially inseminate Becca in exchange for Paul’s money, but the less time spent on this, the better. It’s more one-dimensional behavior from characters that are You’re the Worst’s biggest blind spot/weakness – although when Vernon interrupts Edgar and Lindsay’s sex and obtusely asks, “You guys banging? Nice!” I was still tickled by his sheer enthusiasm.