It’s a sweltering 104 degrees in Los Angeles and the two main stars from FXX’s You’re the Worst are shooting a pivotal scene from the fourth season finale. Without spoiling too much, the moment contains two lit cigarettes and a bright red convertible. It’s also one of only a few scenes in which Chris Geere and Aya Cash share the screen this season.
Stephen Falk, the deranged genius behind You’re the Worst, is in director mode, an orange San Francisco Giants cap shielding his face from the blazing sun when we meet up on set in late August. The show typically films on the east side of L.A. but for this particular shoot they have ventured all the way to Mid-City. “Modern Family gets to go to Hawaii, we get to go to Fairfax,” he jokes.
On a show that set out to chronicle the unconventional relationship of two deeply damaged people, Season 4 of You’re the Worst finds Jimmy and Gretchen as estranged as they have ever been. The Season 3 finale ended with him proposing marriage to her and then promptly driving away into the night, leaving her alone on top of a hill. Jimmy straight-up ghosted Gretchen, disappearing without any explanation instead of telling her how he feels and ending the relationship.
In this week’s one-hour premiere, we see the aftermath of that betrayal. Jimmy kept driving until he arrived at a trailer park for seniors where he has been hiding out with his new best friend Bert, a hard-drinking, fast-driving old man he can’t believe is only 71 years old.
Gretchen, on the other hand, went directly from that hill to her best friend Lindsay’s new apartment in Koreatown and has not gone outside in three months. When we see her for the first time in the second half of the episode she is hooked on both Jack FM and crack cocaine. Neither Jimmy nor Gretchen is in a good place, but the ghoster—the one who broke off the relationship by disappearing without any explanation—is doing a lot better than the ghostee.
With You’re the Worst, Falk—an alum of Jenji Kohan’s Weeds and Orange Is the New Black—says he’s trying to tell a longform story about one very specific romantic relationship. At the show’s premiere event in downtown L.A. this week, he told friends and family the story of how he wrote the pilot in a “rage” after NBC canceled Next Caller, the Dane Cook-led sitcom he created, before a single episode had aired. Fed up with network restrictions, Falk wanted to write a show where the nudity wasn’t just waist up and the heavy drinking was more than implied.
The first season of You’re the Worst ended with Gretchen moving in with Jimmy, after she burned down her apartment with a vibrator. The second ended with something that Falk says “seems like a really small step” but for this couple was actually huge: saying “I love you” to each other. Jimmy just happened to be blackout drunk when he uttered those words first.
“We don’t try to do things for just shock value at all,” Falk insists. Instead, he and his writers challenge themselves to tell “the most Jimmy and Gretchen version” of any major step in a typical rom-com relationship. That impulse led them to have Jimmy flee the relationship moments after proposing marriage.
“Family was this thing his whole life he tried to throw off,” Falk says of Jimmy, who lost his estranged father during Season 3. “And then in that last moment when he proposes to her and she says, ‘We’re a family now,’ that felt to us like it would make psychological sense that he would drive away.”
In terms of where Jimmy’s long drive ends up, Falk says he liked the idea of surrounding the character with a bunch of senior citizens. “Jimmy has always felt like he probably would be much happier if he was 75,” he muses. “He could just be a curmudgeon and no one would think it was weird.”
As the crew adjusts lights for his next scene, Geere says of Jimmy’s journey, “I imagine he stopped off and got some snacks and then arrived at this random place, which we all imagined was quite a long way away, at least an eight-hour drive.” In reality, that portion of the episode was shot in the luxuriously named town of Agua Dulce, about an hour’s drive north of downtown L.A.
Much to Gretchen’s frustration, Jimmy decides to turn off his phone and disconnect from social media. It’s not only a way of “avoiding responsibility” for what he’s done, but it’s also an opportunity for him to take the same much-needed break many people his age could use from constant online interaction. “It actually made me think I wouldn’t mind doing that,” Geere says. “Not for three months, but for a week maybe.
“He’s landed at this place that has pretty much given him the opportunity to forget about everything,” Geere continues. “I think he wanted the most distracting place he could find and an old people’s retirement trailer park seemed appropriate.”
“We’re really telling a story about a future path that Jimmy could take,” Falk explains. “And then just purely I thought it would be funny, him and an old man, sitting and watching Fall Guy together, smoking cigarettes and eating fish sticks.”
At one point, when they are sitting together in a dusty dive bar, Bert tells Jimmy that he wants to drive his red hot rod down to Florida. “It is pathetic for anyone to live in anything but the truth. And your truth is, Bert, you are no longer a driver,” Jimmy tells him, bluntly. “Just live in reality, man.”
“That’s the most ironic thing in the whole episode,” Geere says, because Jimmy is rejecting his own reality and the pain he knows deep down he caused the only woman he’s ever truly loved. “Jimmy doesn’t seem to recognize things in the moment. It’s always retrospectively, like a couple of days later. Sometimes three months. But he gets there eventually and makes the decision to drive back.”
There is a brilliant moment late in Jimmy’s half of the first episode where he decides to turn his phone back on for the first time in three months. For a split second, nothing happens and he smiles. But then, the barrage of beeps and buzzes begins and his grin quickly fades.
At this point, the perspective shifts to Gretchen’s story, and it is not pretty. After reading the premiere script, Geere thought to himself, “Whoa, she is going to go to a dark place.”
While Jimmy’s half of this week’s premiere is all sunshine and wide open spaces, Gretchen’s takes place almost entirely in a crack smoke-filled room with the shades drawn.
“Gretchen is not someone who’s necessarily that skilled at handling her emotions in a healthy way,” Falk adds. “When you suffer a betrayal like that, there’s an impulse to go and hide. It made sense for Gretchen to literally regress and hide out in Lindsay’s apartment, and not even tell Lindsay she’s not leaving.”
When Lindsay finds out that Gretchen hasn’t left the apartment for three months, she asks, “You mean you haven’t even left when I’m at work? But the other day, I came home at lunch and jerked it for 45 minutes.” Gretchen reluctantly admits that she was hiding under the bed.
“Isn’t it kind of awesome though that I came straight here after Jimmy left me on that hill and haven’t left?” Gretchen asks Lindsay. “Like, that is pretty much straight baller when you think about it!” she adds just before bursting into tears.
“I think as humans we tend to run the gamut of emotions,” Cash tells me as she scarfs down a bean burrito from Taco Bell during a break in the shoot. “I just tried to connect into a time when I felt a little manic, a little out of control, a little anxious about interacting with the world. And then you just light the flame under it so it goes to 11.”
Cash herself has never dealt with agoraphobia, explaining, “I’m just a homebody in general, I don’t like to leave my house, but it’s not a fear.”
It would be one thing if Gretchen were dealing with a normal break-up, but the fact that Jimmy literally disappeared into the night and hasn’t been heard from since is what pushes her over the edge. “I think it’s so much worse not knowing, not having any sort of understanding or closure,” Cash says. “I don’t even know if he’s alive. There are moments where I think, maybe he just went to get something and he got in a car accident and died. You can’t get better until you know what happened.”
“These are extreme characters and this is an extreme version of licking your wounds,” Falk says.
In the final moments of the premiere, as she is actively rebounding with her old flame Ty, played by Broad City’s Stephen Schneider, Gretchen receives a text from Jimmy: “Hey…”
“I think he’s testing the water and that he truly believes ‘Hey…’ is a nice ice-breaker,” Geere says, “completely forgetting what he’d just done the last time they’d seen each other.”
“After all that time to just get, ‘Hey…’ is a pretty big middle finger,” Cash counters. “So I don’t think that’s what she’s looking for or makes her very happy. Yeah, not the right way to handle disappearing for three months.”
Teasing the rest of the season, the creator and stars warn that Jimmy and Gretchen won’t be reconciling anytime soon. And things are only going to keep getting weirder for both of them.
“I’m not going to say I levitate, but I may,” Cash says. “That’s something I look forward to people seeing.” There’s also an episode coming up that finds Gretchen returning home to the Midwest, “which is strange, because she says ‘hella,’” the actress notes. Girls’ Zosia Mamet will make a guest appearance as an old childhood friend.
“We’re getting to see both Jimmy and Gretchen live life as single people, while staying in each other’s orbits,” Falk says. “You want your ex, so to speak, to see how good you’re doing, so there’s some of that, too.”
For Jimmy, that means throwing himself into his work to promote his erotic novel The Width of a Peach and finding some “new people” to spend time with. “All of these things together highlight the fact that he’s not very good unless he’s with Gretchen,” Geere admits. “He’s realized that his words and his actions cause upset and destruction. And that doesn’t make him happy, even if he thinks it does. It’s not fun anymore.”
FX hasn’t announced a fifth season for the show yet, but everyone involved is hopeful that the story will continue. “Six seasons and a movie, right?” Cash says, quoting Dan Harmon’s as-yet-unfulfilled dream for his show Community. “Eh, let’s do seven seasons and skip the movie.”