This review contains spoilers from episode three of You’re the Worst Season Three.
Here is a (partial) list of lines from the first two-thirds of “Bad News: Dude’s Dead” with which I personally identify:
1. Gretchen, upon surprising her therapist at a café on an otherwise idyllic morning: “Stop Foursquaring yourself every time you leave the house like the mayor of Thirsty Town.”
2. Gretchen, explaining her ploy to get Jimmy to give her back rubs by saying it makes her horny: “Jokes on you, dummy. I’m horny already!”
3. Jimmy, describing his, uh, process: “It’s all writing.”
4. The two TV-themed exercise classes offered at the gym where Edgar works: “Zustified” (“Zumba while you binge-watch Justified”) and “Treadsparent” (Running on a treadmill while you watch Transparent).
5. Lindsay, enjoying a Popsicle at the party Gretchen throws to announce the death of Jimmy’s father: “I’m not giving my dessert to your baby!”
I offer this sampling of delirious dialogue because “Bad News: Dude’s Dead”—at least until the music thunders through Gretchen and Jimmy’s sun-spotted apartment and the lens flare casts stacks of cash and bottles of champagne in lurid, bluish light—is the funniest episode of You’re the Worst’s still-new season, set to rat-a-tat rhythms and in a zanier key. I also offer it because, for the first time since the early stages of the second season, the aforementioned shift to a darker register doesn’t quite work, a sudden skid from the madcap to the mournful that seems to dismantle the episode from within. “Bad News: Dude’s Dead” is a game attempt to bring the characters’ recent troubles into alignment, but the series is strongest when the echoes are subtler, when it blurs the distinction between the bright and the pitch-black rather that drawing it so sharp.
Before the “celebration” commences, however, You’re the Worst’s manic energies shine. From Jimmy’s absurd portrait—blue blazer, gray turtleneck, antique typewriter, branches—to Gretchen and Lindsay’s foray onto a TV set—trying on costumes in a fleet-footed sequence that calls to mind the backlot hijinks of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain—”Bad News: Dude’s Dead” crackles with verbal and visual wit, as if to suggest the characters’ determination to distract themselves from the swirl of problems established in “Try Real Hard” and “Fix Me, Dummy.” As Gretchen says after ambushing her therapist—she wants permission to withhold the news of Jimmy’s father’s death indefinitely—she “got busy” after discovering the death notice in the mail: Too many Instagram iguanas to follow!
In this sense, though “Bad News: Dude’s Dead” lays the groundwork for Gretchen’s revelation from its opening sequence, the extended interlude that precedes the party is its own, coherent mini-episode, woven together from three forms of denial. If Gretchen’s technological obsessions are an effort to delay the inevitable, Lindsay’s desire to “incept” herself into loving Paul follows the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy: “Afterwards, I kept telling myself I didn’t do it until I actually believed it,” she says of the stabbing, setting up the episode’s most memorable punch line. “Like how Oprah can eat bread now.” For Edgar, twitchy, angry, and slipping into erratic discussion of his wartime experiences, the denial is more forthright, and more foreboding; he admits that “everything’s really, really bad” and then proceeds to do nothing about it, except stew by the window while his friends drink and dance. Of course, as You’re the Worst acknowledges time and again, these are but short-term measures—its overarching conceit, I’d argue, is that no entertainment or emotional deceit can take us out of ourselves for long, that no trip to Benihana, as in Lindsay’s hilarious, almost aphoristic anecdote, can stave off the burn of bad news. The series’ unspoken mantra is that terrifying adage: Wherever you go, there you are.
That the structure of “Bad News: Dude’s Dead” mimics the abrupt dissolution of denial—that I’ve begun to imagine, in the course of writing this recap, just how impressive it would be for You’re the Worst to work through the stages of grief—is, perhaps, a counterargument to my earlier claim that the clamor of the music video-style sequence is more strange interruption than logical conclusion. “We’re gonna live forever!” is, after all, the ultimate denial, and from there the episode grows quite bleak: As night falls over Edgar’s shoulders, his face arranged in an awful grimace, the pregnant woman swills champagne, her husband crawls across a pile of money, the neighbor boy stuffs his backpack with beer. If You’re the Worst can usually be counted on to arrive at its keenest insights with more ease than this, I see now that “Bad News: Dude’s Dead” drops the hammer much as death itself does, with no warning. For Jimmy, at least, his father is alive to hear his good news (“I sold a book, Daddy,” he says sweetly) until the moment Gretchen hands him the obituary. The expression he wears as You’re the Worst cuts to black is a bitter acknowledgment that the grudges we nurse are a distraction of their own, a form of denial that lasts longer, and does more damage, than any other. I don’t have an aphorism or adage for this, mind you. It just is.
Matt Brennan is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in LA Weekly, Indiewire, Paste, Slant, The Week, Flavorwire, Deadspin, and Slate, among other publications. He lives in New Orleans and tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.