“You’re the Worst” is a love story that casts a wary eye toward other love stories. Like its leads, Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere), Stephen Falk’s FXX series narrows its eyes when conventional couples approach — or conventional attitudes about romances persist unchecked. But it’s not cynical. It’s not unromantic. And in its final 13 episodes, the shrewd, stimulating, and tuxedo-black comedy proves it’s not an anti-rom-com at all (as it’s been billed). It’s simply a love story made for a new era of romance: “Notting Hill” mixed with “High Fidelity” for the millennial generation.
It’s fitting, then, that the premiere episode starts with a dueling parody/homage to ’90s-era romantic comedies — with Jimmy and Gretchen nowhere in sight. The first half of “The Intransigence of Love,” written and directed by Falk, is devoted to video store clerk Jake (Morgan Krantz) and cinephile Gemma (Caitlin McGee), torn apart by circumstance but eternally fated by their love of film. The engaging, unexpected tale plays out with longing gazes, douchebag boyfriends, and more spot-on period gags. An extended sequence, in which Jake and his perfectly named friend Ziggy (Brennan Murray) hack the newly formed internet, is brilliant down to the characters’ stilted, dial-up movements.
There’s an undeniable affection to the goofy storytelling. There’s real joy in recreating Hugh Grant’s press-conference confessional to Julia Roberts, and the exuberance transcends the screen. If it hasn’t always been clear, both the show’s characters and writers are amenable to the allures of past romances. After all, the first four seasons of “You’re the Worst” culminated with Jimmy and Gretchen getting engaged, and the final season is a lengthy countdown to their marriage, complete with the posh Jimmy carefully picking each centerpiece and the pleasure-centric Gretchen avoiding wedding work entirely.
Throughout, Season 5 celebrates every aspect of what’s made the series a standout — especially its cast. Lindsay (Kether Donohue) is pushed to fresh professional territory (without betraying her uncaged inner urgings); Edgar (Desmin Borges) is the group’s overseer, ready to pull their strings when need be; Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) and Paul (Allen McLeod) get another standalone episode, this one even more outrageous than the first. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of kinky sex, L.A.-centric cultural commentary, and yes, even one more Sunday Funday — kind of.
But like the push-and-pull between expressing genuine feelings and denying such sentimentality exists, Falk fits these series staples into another distinct seasonal arc. Flash-forwards frame most of the episodes, peeking into a future where present-day promises are betrayed and suspicious changes are prominent. These teases consistently beg the question, “Are Jimmy and Gretchen going to make it?” — successfully reengaging the will-they-won’t-they narrative thrust of most TV romances — but Season 5 also examines how couples reckon with unforeseeable alterations while making definitive promises.
And who better to question the value of a lifelong commitment than two of the “worst” people out there? Utterly dysfunctional on their own, Jimmy and Gretchen are ideal barometers for questioning the heretofore accepted rules of instilling a permanent “better half.” Jimmy, a superior-than-thou novelist, is forced to reconsider his self image when his successful erotic novel is optioned into a movie — can he live with himself becoming yet another Hollywood screenwriter and a reliable husband? Geere’s still-inventive performance makes Jimmy’s plight alternatively hysterical and heartbreaking. One moment he’s coasting on a cloud; the next, he realizes what others think of him. His nuanced control of the character has been underrated for years, and Season 5 offers one last chance to appreciate his mastery. (The TV Academy is quite late to the party.)
Season 5 offers a fitting conclusion for Gretchen’s ongoing struggles with depression. The seriousness isn’t ignored, while her adaptive coping mechanisms make for fitting, funny, and frightening moments — sometimes all at once. Gretchen’s choices will spark different reactions, depending if viewers see the final season as a dark comedy or a rollicking drama. But Cash’s turn is simply honest. She can shout, fight, and dance with the best of them, even channeling all three during a one-take homage to “Oldboy,” and yet the slow zooms on her crumbling face are devastating. Cash channels all that wild buildup as fuel for scenes of great delicacy. You’re right there with Gretchen when she stares into the great unknown, be it work, relationships, or just the pain of living one more day in the rain. For as outlandish as Gretchen can get, she never strays from legitimacy, which stands as a towering accomplishment in portraying depression on television.
By the end of these 13 episodes (critics were given the full season to review), these two characters have fully crystalized and so has the show around them. “You’re the Worst” isn’t mocking the unabashed romance of its rom-com predecessors, but picking up the missing pieces. In its suspicious examination of relationships painted as wholly fulfilling and constantly uplifting, Falk’s series captures the discerning mentality of a more-patient generation — one that’s willing to wait for marriage, not get married at all, or throw themselves into everlasting coupledom with more realistic expectations of what it really means. “You’re the Worst” offers the truth — the good times and the bad — and in doing so, makes itself indelible to the genre it loves.
“You’re the Worst” Season 5 premieres Wednesday, January 9 at 10 p.m. on FXX. Seasons 1 – 4 are available to stream on Hulu.