You’re the Worst features characters that have complicated relationships with one another. That’s somewhat fitting, as I’ve had a complicated relationship with the show over its first three seasons. I put season one as my favorite show of that year, with its initially off-putting pilot yielding a snarky, sneaky, romantic heart underneath. Seasons two and three were simultaneously more ambitious and less satisfying. The show’s depiction (and Aya Cash’s portrayal) of Gretchen’s depression in season two was titanically great, but essentially swallowed all of the oxygen in the room, leaving other characters and storylines oddly placed. In season three, there were several standout episodes (including the marvelous Edgar-centric one “Twenty-Two”), but many of the show’s initial characters and plot strands had already become caricatures of themselves.
I say all of this not to say this is the only way to view the past three seasons of the show, but provide context for my feelings about the first three episodes of season four. In short, they are the best overall string of episodes since the first season, have solved most of my issues with the past two years, and suggest a much longer shelf-life for the show than I would have imagined after seeing last season’s finale.
It will be interesting to see if the show can keep this quality up over the course of the entire season, since the primary power of these first three episodes (including a two-part premiere on September 6 on FXX) comes from splitting the core four characters apart from their normal interactions in the aftermath of Jimmy abandoning Gretchen after she accepted his marriage proposal. It’s not a spoiler to say that the fourth season doesn’t keep them all on purely parallel narrative lanes, but there’s something fresh and invigorating about watching them deal with their new respective situations. In particular, these episodes go a long way to redeeming Lindsay as a character. (Kether Donohue has always been great, but the show seemed to treat her less as a human being and more as an alien trying to learn the ways of Earthlings as seasons two and three unfolded.)
The two-part premiere actually works better as a whole rather than as two weekly installments, precisely because of the isolation of the characters at the outset of this season. The satisfaction that comes from watching these separate storylines unfold in one setting goes a long way towards getting us back into the world of the show through an initially vertigo-inducing perspective. Jimmy and Gretchen are still fundamentally Jimmy and Gretchen, and on most shows the “will they/won’t they/of course they will, why not just get on with it already” narrative progression would drive me fleeing from the scene of the small-screen crime. But putting that absolutely massive chasm between the two at the end of last season doesn’t feel like a delay tactic so much as an accurate hiccup on a path that was always going to be non-linear in the first place. You want these two to work it out, but at the same time there’s no way they’ve worked it all out by now. Progress can be made, You’re The Worst argues, but it’s imperfect and almost always is accompanied by setbacks.
The show is still crass, features explicit sex, and depicts enough bad behavior to make your older relatives blush. But there’s something also mature and lived-in at this point. Very little of the adult content of this show feels like it’s there to shock anyone. Instead, it just feels organic. Seeing one of these characters try crack isn’t something revolutionary so much as something these people might do while bored on a Tuesday. These people are who they are, and while they do evolve, they don’t completely abandon the parts of themselves they more-than-secretly want to change. Cash, Donohue, Chris Geere, and Desmin Borges all have the ability to use their eyes to turn callous creatures into vulnerable people we desperately want to protect (most often from themselves). In those moments, we see who these people really are. Everything else is a protective shield.
Breaking down that shield is terrifying, and it’s the slow, steady, messy work of You’re The Worst at its essence. They need each other on an atomic level that’s often inexplicable, sometimes toxic, but always essential. That hasn’t always felt the case in recent years, but the bonds that were forged in season one are the most balanced they have been since the first season. By pushing these people further apart than they’ve ever been, the show’s actually found a way to return to seeing these people anew without forgetting what we’ve learned about them over the past three seasons. Cash is still delivering the kind of mind-blowing performance that inspires “look I don’t care about awards but how hasn’t she won a bunch already” thoughts in my brain, but she’s now locked into the overall matrix rather than hovering outside of it. That’s not to dismiss what the others are doing on this show. But Gretchen Cutler is a special character, and You’re The Worst has returned her to the ensemble rather than as de facto lead.
In a show about the need to find companionship rather than living alone, that makes all the difference this season.