Lou Diamond Phillips needs those lemons, though not for lemonade. It’s one of those eccentric gags that You’re the Worst sells by suggesting it’s no gag at all; the lemons are symbolic, or they’re a MacGuffin, or they’re just a splash of brightness in what has become a grim season, but I don’t doubt for a second that LDP means what he says when he tells Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and Becca (Janet Varney), “One thing I know for sure: Lemons won’t ever walk out on me.” If there’s a lesson in “Dad-Not-Dad,” which, with the exception of one truly boneheaded decision, returns You’re the Worst to firmer footing after the dreadful “Worldstar!,” this is it: When life gives you lemons, make not-lemonade.
The metaphorical lemons are almost in high-definition here, as the characters attempt to scrape themselves off last week’ s rock bottom: Lindsay and Becca test the hypothesis that they’re to blame for LDP going AWOL, only to discover that his radio silence was mandated by their mother (Robin Riker); Edgar (Desmin Borges) frets over his latest extravagance (“Well, I depreciate this car!” Lindsay squeals, delightfully); Jimmy begrudgingly seeks solace in his one-night stand’s friends; Gretchen (Aya Cash), going “down a road” with Boone (Colin Ferguson), submits to interrogation by his intimidating ex-wife, Whitney (Anne Dudek). The “not-lemonade” is the varying levels of success—or failure, as the case may be—that confront each character’s efforts. (Points to You’re the Worst, which I’ve criticized time and again this season for wheel-spinning, for showing the characters at least trying to climb out of their respective ruts, even if the end result is mostly disappointment.) Funnily enough, it’s Lindsay and Becca that arrive, or so I hope, at the clearest path forward: As LDP urges the former to help people, and the latter to be a good parent, it feels like wisdom their adventure outside of the city has genuinely earned.
There are other grace notes in “Dad-Not-Dad” reminiscent of You’re the Worst at the height of its powers, which suggests there’s still time to turn this season’s lemons into not-lemonade. Lindsay’s greeting for LDP is sublimely barmy, for instance: “You railed our mom,” she says, before pausing to correct herself. “Sorry: You railed our mother. In the ‘90s?” Gretchen’s explanation of her 14-year-old online persona is similarly hilarious: “I use Li’l Gretch to catch pedophiles. And occasionally cyber bully Elle Fanning.” And the mirror image of Sunday Funday in Jimmy’s afternoon with Katherine (Lucy Montgomery) and her posh pals (macroeconomist, architecture critic, robotics expert; brunch, Malbec tasting, escape room; Chinatown show) is a rather ingenious way of pulling the rug out from under our self-impressed protagonist. Jimmy relies on Edgar, Lindsay and even Gretchen to feed his ego, because when he’s around folks who aren’t the worst, it turns out he’s the rube.
I’m not sure how Edgar’s money problems get resolved without cutting ties with Max, which may first require a reconnection with Jimmy—I’m frankly not sure I much care, though it was nice to see glimmers of the Edgar who’s not a complete douchecanoe in “Dad-Not-Dad.” I’m not sure what Lindsay and Becca do next, either. Become… normal? Highly doubtful, which probably spells big trouble with Mommy Dearest before all’s said and done. But these subplots are going somewhere, even if the exact destination remains to be seen; Gretchen and Jimmy’s relationship, by contrast, seems poised to return to the same place as ever—a place of mutual need that never makes them happy for long, but is better than the alternative. I can’t imagine the remainder of the season passing without Gretchen admitting to Boone (who is one scarily quick-tempered motherfucker) that she fingered his ex while blackout drunk, at which point she and Jimmy will be thrown back into each other’s arms.
This is the truly boneheaded development I mentioned above, in part because it reads as a cheap way to create conflict between Gretchen and Boone, and in part because the season has reached a point at which the dazzling premiere might be seen as its own MacGuffin. If “It’s Been” convinced me that You’re the Worst had found a canny way of handling Gretchen and Jimmy’s breakup, all the action since has seemed like stalling, putting off their inevitable reunion. I hope I’m wrong—I hope the season comes good in the end—but Whitney’s self-conscious reference to her breakup with Boone as “the gift that keeps on giving” is cause for concern. I suppose what I want is for Gretchen and Jimmy, for the series itself, to have the courage not to settle, though “Dad-Not-Dad” militates against this prediction, despite the episode’s occasional strengths. In the end, maybe they’re the lemons, and the strangely unsatisfying romance they fall back on is their slightly sour not-lemonade.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.