In “From the Beginning, I Was Screwed,” Jimmy (Chris Geere) appears on the panel of a Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me-style radio show. Gretchen (Aya Cash) celebrates “International Night” with Boone (Colin Ferguson) and his daughter, Olivia (Kiery Baker), choosing to represent France. Edgar (Desmin Borges) describes his military service to Captain Mustache (Johnny Pemberton). Lindsay (Kether Donohue) bails out Paul (Allan McLeod) after he’s picked up on a BUI (biking under the influence). There are guest stars—Andy Daly, Ben Folds—and a handful of memorable lines (“The People’s Choice Awards: Women, gays, teens, plus general dummies,” as Merrin Dungey’s marketing whiz describes its target audience), plus a heartwarming moment or two—Olivia hugging Gretchen, for instance—sewn into its side pocket. If this sounds familiar, you would be right: You’re the Worst has drifted so far from its sharp-tongued criticism of the sitcom that it’s slowly, surely, almost fatally become one, at least as formulaic but with only half the charm.
Tonight’s episode, to wit, features not only “A” and “B” plots, but also “C,” “D” and “F” plots — “F,” in this case, for “failure,” though I suppose Sam (Brandon Mychal Smith) and Shitstain’s (Darrell Britt-Gibson) non-collaboration with Folds, himself bloodied and fresh from a bender, scarcely deserves to be called a “plot.” Nor, for that matter, does Lindsay’s Lou Diamond Phillips-spurred desire to “help people,” not when it brings Paul (Allan McLeod) back into her orbit. (Remember my concern about that men’s rights subplot from earlier this season? In You’re the Worst, it appears, all is forgiven, even flagrantly misogynist bullshit.) Edgar, seemingly sincere in his confidences, runs into the buzz saw, too: When Max encourages him to open up, the episode cuts away, as if the series’ concern for his wartime experience were merely a form of lip service. At this point, I’m no longer convinced it’s not.
In fact, if I had to pinpoint the problem, it’s that “From the Beginning…” witnesses You’re the Worst turn on its characters once and for all; certainly, whatever was left of its empathic streak, attempting to understand their hideous choices, has been replaced by the sort of ritual humiliation Jimmy encounters on The Tip of My Tongue. (The series, after spending two seasons imploding at snail’s pace, seems to turn on its critics, too: Phil Abram’s self-described “book critic, radio host and failed amateur gardener” Steeb Corniglia, wearing a polka-dot ascot and cooing “It felt like cacodoxy to be sidetracked by a genre experiment,” is up there with Ratatouille’s Anton Ego and Birdman’s Tabitha in the caricature department.) As with the most tired entries in the most hidebound TV genre of all, though, You’re the Worst now lacks the narrative momentum or emotional heft to lend this point-scoring purpose, to the extent that it resists analysis—one could list the decent one-liners in an episode (“Their president is a Benetton model who bangs him mom-wife,” Gretchen says, perfectly, of Emmanuel Macron) and call it a night.
Before I do, though—this dreadful half-hour doesn’t deserve much more than that as far as careful consideration goes—a note on that baffling, mean-spirited, derivative “International Night” interlude and the cheap kiss Gretchen subsequently shares with Jimmy. For the series that produced “LCD Soundsystem” and “Twenty-Two” to abandon its interest in testing sitcom convention with such speed is profoundly disappointing, even more than it is frustrating. Aimlessly unfunny subplots, unearned endings, and fey allusions to Mad Men’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” are the craven aspects of the genre for which You’re the Worst once bared its teeth, sharpened its knives, and it’s hard not to think it’s finally made good on the promise of the theme song: “I’m gonna leave you anyway.” I’m not sure this qualifies as beating it to the punch, but “From the Beginning, I Was Screwed” is proof enough for me that it’s not worth sticking around, no matter what happens in next week’s two-part finale.
Fitting, too, that Gretchen, insulting a child for no reason to impress a guy she doesn’t seem to like, says it with more conviction than I could.
You’re the Worst: This bitch is toast.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.