‘You’re the Worst’ Ends a Disappointing Third Season on a Note of Despair

Well, that was a bummer.

The first season of You’re the Worst examined the fallout from the decision of two selfish, immature, and commitment-averse people to enter into an adult relationship. The second burrowed in deeper, as Gretchen (Aya Cash) moved in with Jimmy (Chris Geere) and grappled with an ugly bout of clinical depression. But the third season, which ended last night on a particularly gloomy note, has flailed from one idea or plot to the next without ever really cohering the way the previous two did. You’re the Worst has illustrated a key idea about relationships, but perhaps not in the way it intended: by demonstrating how someone who seems to hold so much potential — who’s different, who doesn’t subscribe to norms, who tells it like it is — can turn out to be such a bummer.

On last night’s two-part finale, Gretchen and Jimmy’s fragile union suddenly, cruelly broke apart. Jimmy proposes to Gretchen in a way that perfectly suits their unconventional relationship: He makes up a fake news story about a woman who was brutally murdered, knowing Gretchen’s morbid curiosity will lead them to the site, which overlooks the glittering lights of L.A. at dusk. But he immediately turns and flees the scene of the crime when Gretchen says that now, they’ll be more than just “us”; they’ll be family. Jimmy’s daddy issues get the best of him, and he gets in his car and drives off, leaving a stunned Gretchen behind.

After two seasons that ended with Gretchen and Jimmy getting closer — first, she moved in with him, then they said the “l” word — this downer of an ending would be an appropriate way to bring the series to a close. That’s not going to happen (You’re the Worst has been picked up for a fourth season) but this season showed signs that it may have stretched its concept too thin.

Too often this season, the central joke of the characters’ nihilism and selfishness collapsed in on itself. Either the show tried too hard to explain the source of those feelings, which resulted in a lot of pseudo-psychological conversations that weren’t nearly as insightful or funny as the focus on Gretchen’s depression last season; or it didn’t explain their feelings at all, as if that in itself were the joke. When Lindsay (Kether Donohue) has an abortion in episode ten, it’s barely discussed. I appreciate not every plotline about abortion has to be all after-school-special (and that this episode was written and aired before women’s reproductive rights were about to be dashed on the rocks), but it made Lindsay come off more like a caricature of a blasé ditz than a person.

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Too often this season, the characters were cartoonish exaggerations of their signature qualities: Lindsay is super dumb and horny; Paul (Allan McLeod) is sickly sweet, until Lindsay leaves him and he sours; Jimmy is a pretentious blowhard; Gretchen is a selfish cynic. As a result, so many of the choices the characters made this season, or the ways they reacted to the behavior of others, rang false.

In one episode, Jimmy tells Gretchen he’s reevaluating everything in his life after the death of his father, including her, and begins making a pro-con list in his notebook. The writers treat it as a joke — Gretchen is sitcom-character upset, trying to steal Jimmy’s notebook from his jacket when he’s not around — but the episode highlights a problem with the half-hour comedy/drama hybrid that we’ve seen so much of in the past few years. You can’t treat characters’ mental health gravely one minute, chirpily the next. You can’t spend three seasons focusing on the fragile mental health of your female lead and then convince me she wouldn’t go seriously apeshit over her live-in boyfriend flaunting a pro-con list about her right in front of her face.

The third season tried to do too much, and as a result, it never cohered. There was the extremely un-funny bottle episode featuring the show’s two least interesting characters, Paul and Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson), on a road trip; the wedding episode composed of a series of one-take shots; the episode — the season’s best — told solely from Edgar’s (Desmin Borges) point of view, as he struggles to get help for his PTSD; Lindsay’s cuckolding Paul, and then her abortion; the death of Jimmy’s father; Jimmy’s second novel, excerpts of which we heard throughout the season. So many of these plots were surprisingly predictable: When Jimmy climbs a ladder to build a treehouse, you can bet he’ll get stuck up there; of course Paul and Vernon run out of gas in an area where there’s no cell phone reception.

There were some bright spots, particularly the magnified focus on Edgar and Dorothy (Collette Wolfe), who finally decides to quit her pursuit of becoming an actress and move back to her hometown in Florida — clearing the way, no doubt, for Lindsay and Edgar to hook up next season. But by the end, the show, like Gretchen and Jimmy’s relationship, ran out of steam. It’s a shame it didn’t work out, but there are other fish in the sea.