For all its full-throated snarling, You’re the Worst is a strikingly traditional sitcom. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I won’t knock writers for returning to wells they know to be reliably full. The tension in FXX’s misanthropes-in-love comedy isn’t dependent on whether goony British novelist Jimmy (Chris Geere) and flaky PR exec Gretchen (Aya Cash) will stay together — we’re pretty sure they will. But showrunner Stephen Falk does keep us guessing about what this relationship between an emotionally constipated narcissist (him) and a self-destructive shunner who doesn’t know how to ask for or receive help (her) will morph into next.
Last year, the salt-laced rom-com broke through in its sophomore season with a surprising and sensitive portrait of Gretchen’s depression and how it affected her still-nascent relationship with Jimmy, who’s commitment-phobic and romantically effort-averse on a good day. Jimmy and Gretchen aren’t “likable” characters in the conventional sense, but their “no one gets me better than you” bond is the kind of urban-fairy-tale romance that inspires swooning and fan art. A guest arc by Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley, playing Gretchen’s therapist, builds on the Season 2 revelation that Gretchen has thus far avoided medication and therapy. (Her take on the difference between psychiatrists and therapists: “A psychiatrist is like, ‘Here, take these pills, ho.’ A therapist is all, ‘Tell me your shit, I couldn’t make it as an actor.’”)
Discussions about You’re the Worst tend to focus on Jimmy and Gretchen, since its side characters — Jimmy’s dorky doormat of a roommate, Edgar (Desmin Borges), and Gretchen’s lost gold-digger of a BFF, Lindsay (Kether Donohue) — are variations on the beta-male and dumb-bimbo comedy archetypes. But the third season, arriving on Wednesday, August 31, finally makes those two characters more relevant by exploring their roles within Jimmy and Gretchen’s chosen family. With the two lovers stuck in a dumb fight in the season premiere over whether Jimmy really loves Gretchen — she argues that he said the words, he counters that he was blackout drunk when he said them, if he said them at all — it’s a relief that the show feels more like an ensemble than ever, while challenging the assumptions we normally take for granted about sitcom friends.
You’re the Worst fits neatly within the “sexy singles in the city” sitcom subgenre (e.g., Friends, How I Met Your Mother, New Girl), in which a group of twenty- and thirtysomethings have made their friends their family. With a brewing crisis for Jimmy (revealed in the second episode), Edgar moving in with his improv-comedian girlfriend (Collette Wolfe), and Lindsay pregnant and back together with her ex-husband Paul (Allan McLeod), the series promisingly channels that anxiety about whether your friends will stay your family when life circumstances change. Showrunner Falk gets that the stable voluntary families can prove as elusive as a happy biological family or a steady romance. You’re the Worst’s L.A. hyper-specificity — set in a metropolis full of transplants and, as Edgar observes, an increasing number of tent cities — means that there’s ample evidence of people falling through the cracks all around.
Should Season 3 continue to explore what family means to Jimmy, Gretchen, the still-adrift Edgar, and the expectant Lindsay, it has the potential to live up to the groundbreaking second season. The quartet will scream from the top of Griffith Observatory about how damaged they are to anyone who’ll listen. The question is who’ll stick around, and how.