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Commitment and bored handjobs: You're the Worst season 3 is everything its characters fear, and it's great

The FXX comedy digs into the everyday mess of relationships with terrifying honesty.

Jimmy (Chris Geere), Edgar (Desmin Borges), Lindsay (Kether Donohue), and Gretchen (Aya Cash) make questionable (and really fun to watch) decisions.
Autumn DeWilde / FX

For its third season, You’re the Worst is diving into the exact thing its characters fear the most: commitment.

After shooting everything on location in Los Angeles for the first two seasons, the FXX comedy has created its first permanent sets in a loft warehouse in Atwater Village, an LA neighborhood that’s increasingly home to the kind of meticulously slick bars and coffee shops that You’re the Worst’s determinedly careless characters might make fun of but secretly love.

After filming seasons one and two in an actual house in the Silver Lake hills, You’re the Worst’s crew has now painstakingly recreated the familiar blue living room where writer Jimmy (Chris Geere) hangs out with his equally sardonic girlfriend Gretchen (Aya Cash), his relentlessly earnest roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges), and Gretchen’s longtime partner in crime, Lindsay (Kether Donohue).

I visited the new set on a cool July night, the first day the show’s main acting quartet saw it. In between scenes, the grinning crew blindfolded the cast and led them up to the door of their new home.

It was a cute moment, but after the expected cheers, the reaction pretty much just boiled down to, "...well, yeah. This is the house."

Everything is in its right place. There’s Jimmy’s midcentury furniture, meticulously arranged. There are his faded books, the striped flour jars reading "Quaaludes" and "Prozac," the magnets holding up a chore list on his fridge ("EDGAR: Re-fill bed booze, laundry, make all beds, cook and clean"; "GRETCHEN: Open mail, dust short things").

The only difference from the original house, really, is that the set is bigger. Recreating the set allowed the crew to expand the living room beyond the confines of the original house so they have more room to play.

It’s all the same as it was before, but also a little different. Though the new set’s construction was driven by necessity, its existence means we’ll get to see the same living room, just from some new angles that would’ve been impossible before.

As fate would have it, that’s the exact lesson the characters of You’re the Worst are trying their damnedest to learn this season — and if they don’t, they just might break.

After two seasons in relationship purgatory, these characters are ready to take the next step, for better and for worse

Gretchen’s new therapist Justine (Samira Wiley) tries to make sense of her new jerk patient.

Reviews of You’re the Worst often make it sound like a bleak drama. And to be fair, there’s some truth to this.

Though the show tells a story familiar to any fan of romantic comedies — boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl refuse to admit it for fear of ruining everything — it paints everything with a dark sheen of misery. Watching the characters burrow deeper into their own insecurities or snarl at each other in impotent rage can feel like the show is trying to rip out your guts and leave you to make sense of the carnage that remains.

In the series premiere, Jimmy and Gretchen tell each other when they meet (at a wedding, in true rom-com fashion) that they’re both terrified of being "boring normals." That fear doesn’t go away as they get deeper into their relationship, even if they justify their coupling up — as Gretchen does in the first season — as two pit bulls who might not be able to get along with other dogs but together "nullify the threat through mutually assured destruction."

Much of You’re the Worst’s second season is devoted to Gretchen revealing to Jimmy that she has clinical depression, as she falls into a steady spiral downward into the loneliest corners of her brain. Both her arc and Cash’s bruising portrayal got much-deserved attention and praise.

It’s not a stretch to say this storyline might’ve saved You’re the Worst from cancellation: It only averages about 300,000 viewers an episode, but FX specifically mentioned the show’s critical acclaim and described the depression arc as "daring" and "courageous" when renewing it for season three.

But as everyone involved with both this show and depression will tell you, that’s not all there is to the story.

"We wanted to do something different this season," creator and showrunner Stephen Falk said. "We got to be more specific, tighten the microscope a little bit."

So by the time season three starts — with a Falk-penned episode appropriately titled "Try Real Hard" — Gretchen has agreed to try medication and go to a therapist (played to exasperated perfection by Orange Is the New Black's Samira Wiley). Meanwhile, Jimmy finally told Gretchen he loves her in the season two finale — albeit while blind drunk on "trash juice," a technicality he clings to in the third season premiere like he once did the trash juice.

But in a notable departure from her tried-and-true method of "let shit figure itself out," Gretchen doesn’t back down or balk when Jimmy denies that he loves her. She makes him admit that he does love her, and, much to his surprise, the world doesn’t end. "It’s kind of a relief to say, ‘Okay, we don’t have to do that anymore,’" Cash admitted with a laugh. "Time to move on."

The first couple episodes of season three do have You’re the Worst’s familiar, dull ache of loneliness pulsing behind them; loneliness and depression don’t just disappear when you want them to, after all. "We obviously didn’t want to repeat ourselves," said Falk. "But we also wanted to deal with the reality, which is that [depression] is a lifelong struggle, and that it continues."

Still, there are some undeniable cracks of light emerging in a relationship that once felt more like a panic room.

"They’ve realized, whether they want to admit it or not, that they’re really committing to each other," Geere said of Jimmy and Gretchen’s reluctant slide into becoming the couple that gives each other bored handjobs while watching TV. "Once you say ‘I love you’ to someone, it’s a commitment that you’re going to be with them for a long time. And when you’re with them for a long time, you suddenly become their family."

What does it mean to make a family? You’re the Worst investigates.

Lindsay (Donohue) and Paul (McLeod) share a rare moment of actual happiness. Aw.

That all sounds good and adorable, but the thing about family — chosen or otherwise — is that keeping it together can be incredibly complicated.

So while Jimmy and Gretchen wrestle with their own insecurities about each other and sidestep stasis like it’ll burn, their friends are flailing wildly to find something — anything — approaching stability, just to stay grounded.

In one corner, Edgar’s trying to create something of his own with Dorothy, an improv addict who finds him sweet but doesn’t quite know how to handle the fact that he is a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"He’s really trying to transition into civilian-hood as best he could," Borges said. "I don’t know if it’s more a ‘race to normalcy’ than it is a race to a life that’s similar to the life he had before he went to war." After two seasons, Edgar has been the butt of Jimmy’s jokes for so long that he’s determined to make something that’s entirely his own. But his focus on getting there keeps clashing with Dorothy’s confusion and, more crucially, his own fractured mind.

Meanwhile, Lindsay is trying so desperately to create her own family that by the end of season two, she isn’t just back together with her incompatibly sweet ex-husband (a game-for-anything Allan McLeod) but pregnant with his kid. For anyone who doesn’t know Lindsay, this seems like great news. For those who do, it should be cause for active concern, or possibly an intervention.

But Donohue — whose warmth you can feel both a mile away and when she’s hugging you, a complete stranger — is sympathetic to how Lindsay got to where she is in season three. As with everyone on the show, she told me, it’s all about her fear.

"There’s something very scary about feeling that things are safe on the outside, [when] from past experiences, you know how bad things can get," Donohue said. "For Lindsay, it’s like, ‘I’m back with my husband, I’m pregnant!’ In the external world, on paper, that’s stable. Internally, that’s terrifying. Can she handle that? Does she really want that?"

This is where You’re the Worst gets you. Even if you don’t think you’ll understand the reckless, often selfish characters who form the show’s bleeding heart, there’s no denying the power of watching these caustic weirdos openly — and maybe even brazenly — reenact the kinds of fears that lurk inside just about everyone.

So even as every single person on You’re the Worst does their best to ignore their own self-sabotaging brains in increasingly ridiculous ways — the better to make interesting TV — they’re still asking themselves the same questions as anyone else.

"What kind of person am I?"

"Is this enough?"

And the one that’s hung over the entire series, but maybe especially over season three: "What does it actually mean to love someone, day in and day out?"

You’re the Worst would like to inform you that there’s more to a relationship than the thrilling start of it

Edgar (Borges) and Dorothy (Wolfe) are giving it their best shot

If season two got labeled "The Depression Season," season three is a forceful reminder that You’re the Worst has always been first and foremost a show about the incredibly hard, frustrating, and maybe even rewarding work that goes into being in a relationship, every single day of your godforsaken life.

"We’ve always been interested in getting the will-they-won’t-they out of the way," said Falk. As he pointed out, Jimmy and Gretchen practically reenacted an entire rom-com within the show’s very first episode, between meeting, hooking up, separating, and coming back together.

"To be honest," Geere told me with a blooming smile, "I think he’s loved her ever since he saw her at the wedding in the pilot. Because pit bulls, you know?"

It’s such a lovely sentiment that when I play the recording back for myself later, I laugh just as happily as I did when I first heard it on set. But Falk maintains that he’s far more interested in what happens after that — whether for Jimmy and Gretchen, Lindsay and Paul, or Edgar and Dorothy — in all its messy mundanity.

He mentions Mike Nichols’s The Graduate as a particular favorite, thanks to its final, ambiguous shot of its giddy central couple escaping a wedding on a bus. Once the rush of actually admitting their feelings wears off, though, their ecstatic faces fall so hard they practically hit the concrete rolling by beneath them — a shot You're the Worst has paid tribute to in similarly panicked moments of Gretchen and Jimmy's.

"There are more interesting things to say about a relationship than most rom-coms have led us to believe," Falk said. "To think that you can’t write more chapters of a relationship in an exciting, interesting, visceral, sexy, fun, human way. …" He trailed off, out of adjectives, but grinning. "Then maybe you’re not trying hard enough."

You’re the Worst as a show has always been committed to digging into that messy space, but this season its characters finally give in to doing the same. After coming to terms with what they want, what they need, what they desperately crave, everyone looks around at the same things they’ve been looking at for years ... but maybe this time, it feels a little bigger, a little easier to find that new angle that once seemed so impossible.

You’re the Worst airs Wednesdays at 10 pm on FXX. The first two seasons are currently available to stream on Hulu.