From show creator Stephen Falk, the FXX comedy series You’re the Worst is a modern look at love and happiness told through the eyes of two people who haven’t been very successful with either. This season, narcissistic, brash and self-destructive Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) has found himself having to learn to live with cynical, people-pleasing and stubborn Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) when the two can barely live with themselves.
During a recent conference call to discuss the evolution of You’re the Worst and where it’s headed in Season 2, showrunner/writer/director/executive producer Stephen Falk talked about what makes this comedy stand out about the rest, why the move to FXX came about, how he put together this writers’ room, the way the seasons are structured, pulling from his own life, having a cast of flawed and sometimes unlikeable characters that you want to root for, his favorite episodes, and the audience’s changing taste in comedy. Here’s a list of 16 things that you should know about You’re the Worst and how the show comes together.
- In the current TV landscape, where there are so many TV shows to choose from and so many different ways to watch them, show creator Stephen Falk said that You’re the Worst stands out because of its extraordinary cast, which is largely due to FX allowing him to cast people who weren’t famous, semi-famous, or even known within the casting community. He was given the freedom to cast the best actors that he could find, and not necessarily the prettiest or those who have a million Twitter followers.
- The biggest change in the show’s second season is its move from FX to FXX. Falk said that when he got that phone call, he was initially a bit hesitant. “I just very simply got a call from a handful of FX executives, including John Landgraf, who told me we were getting picked up for 13, but we were moving to FXX, which to be honest, felt a little like a demotion. But, they’re not fools. They’re absolutely aware that a creative risk show that’s moving to FXX may feel like a demotion. But at the end of that conversation, I felt a lot better about it. At that point, I was only worried about how it would read to the critics and to the audience. But in terms of how we watch television these days, I don’t think it really matters, except that FXX is in less households. I’m not sure what the current count is, but the good side is that it lowers our ratings threshold. Because we’re in less homes, we have to hit less eyeballs for them to be happy.”
- When it comes to writing the show, Falk tasked the writers, including himself, with digging deep and always making sure that they’re cognizant of how human beings really behave and feel. “While these relationships are incredibly silly and funny and messy and dumb, they’re also our primary relationships aside from our parental relationships. They’re deeply important to us, so we treat that importance with respect.” He also feels that, from watching so much TV and film as a kid, he has an inherent sense of what is fresh and what is cliché.
As a showrunner who had to put together his writers’ room at the beginning of the series, Falk said that he looks for original voices and a well-crafted story. “I’m less concerned about the concept, when talking about a writing sample. I’m more interested in the craft. When I’m looking for submissions, specifically when I hire writers, I like to read original material. I don’t like to read specs. I tell agents, ‘Give me your three best writers and give me the purest distillation of their voice.’ I read them without the cover page, so I don’t know who they are or what their gender is. And then, I pick the best ones, and ones that don’t have overlapping talents. I want them to represent different voices, so I try to put them together that way. But then, I like very good structure and I like it to be written and formatted properly, and not feeling like it’s trying to replicate anything else. I like originality.”
- The seasons are structured into three acts, with different directors for the different acts, making the story more cohesive. Said Falk, “I’m not really good at winging things, so I wanted to attempt to make the season feel like a very cohesive story. We’re not CSI. We can tell a longer form story while trying to make the episodes individual and have their own feel, at the same time. So, I really just broke it down, like any story, into three acts.” The 13 episodes of Season 2 were broken down with the first four episodes as Act 1, the middle six episodes as Act 2 (with Falk directing two of those episodes himself), and the last three episodes as Act 3.
Falk also doesn’t write the scripts with act breaks, which is pretty standard for cable shows. Because he started writing TV on Weeds, and Weeds didn’t have any act breaks, he just doesn’t think in those terms. “By nature, any story is going to have act breaks. It’s going to have moments where the conflict changes, or the resolution begins, or when stasis becomes chaos. I find that for this show, I put the act breaks in, in editing. It’s just easier for me. But there’s nothing wrong with doing it. I’ve certainly done a lot of writing with act breaks. Certain networks will have different requirements. I have the luxury, right now, of not doing that. I’m not Matthew Weiner, who refused to do that and just let them put the commercials in where they wanted them to go. That’s why the act breaks were often very abrupt or strange. But, I’m also not dogmatic about where they go. I figure it out later.”
- These characters are not based on anyone specific from Falk’s life. They’re more just taken from what he knows, in his own life and neighborhood. “It’s really just having lived, for years in the Village in New York and here in L.A. I grew up in Berkeley, which also has a lot of hipster culture. It’s just steeped in it. And like anything I write in the show, I’m guilty of most of the things that my characters rail against. If you have a good amount of self-awareness, you can make fun of what you actually are. I live in Los Feliz. I’m about to have my first kid. I have a dog that I take everywhere. I drive a Vespa. I’m disgusted with myself, but it allows me to take swings at targets that also hurt when I do.”
The characters are realistic and sometimes unlikeable, but you still want to root for them, which is a tricky balance to find, but one that is much more human. Falk said, “You’ve got to be very aware of the tightrope you’re on, while at the same time, being free to let the characters say whatever they want to without fear of censoring yourself. Hopefully, we’re beginning to exit a long, dark period of time where characters, according to the executives who pay for the shows, have to be ‘likeable,’ which is a complete fallacy and a misunderstanding of not only comedy, but of human behavior and the reality of humanity. Hopefully, American television is entering a period where we allow our characters to actually be flawed, and not just TV flawed. We’re bringing our television writing a little closer to the reality of human behavior and of human beings, in general, as dark, damaged, and fucked up, with bad motivations and terrible instincts, and who are making mistakes, but are still yearning for connection. I’m just trying to create characters that are flawed, but that represent the dark parts in all of us that still yearn for love and connection.”
- With Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) now sharing space, it’s the next step in a normal, typical relationship, as they can just wake up together every morning. That aspect of the story will function more as a way to advance their relationship, rather than just generating story, although they do deal with what it means to live together, in the first few episodes, as they explore what that does to them and how it scares them.
As for Edgar (Desmin Borges), Jimmy’s once homeless war veteran roommate, he’ll be getting more of an identity beyond just being a veteran. He’s always still dealing, as veterans who saw a lot of combat do, with the after effects of that and trying to re-engage in the normal world, but he’ll also be getting a hobby and a love interest, in Lindsay (Kether Donohue).
- For Lindsay, Gretchen’s best friend and former partner in crime, she was last left with Paul announcing that he wanted to consciously uncouple with her, so she’ll be floundering in the wake of having been abandoned by someone who she didn’t really love that much. She’ll be living on her own, which is a challenge, and she’ll become aware of Edgar’s crush on her and decide how to behave with that. She’s also mad that Paul has a girlfriend and wants to destroy that.
- This show delves into the painful parts of being in a relationship, and Falk’s biggest influences for that are John Hughes, Chekhov, and his own big romantic heart. “For a lot of people my age, [John Hughes] really spoke to me when I was going through that hormonal time. I think there’s a lot of beautiful yearning in Chekhov, with whom I was obsessed with when I was in acting school at NYU, and became really engrossed in the way that his characters yearn. And then, just personally having been a big softie and a big romantic from my youth, and then going through the normal relationships we all do, and finally finding it, buying in and getting married, and then having that not work out, all of a sudden, and having to go through a divorce, was very formulative to the world view of this show. It’s a long road and a long process. Just being attuned to the ways in which we get knocked down and continue to try to struggle helped me to write this show.”
Falk’s version of the romantic comedy has been compared to the work of Judd Apatow, but their approach is different, in the sense that Falk is not as interested in improvisation. He prefers structured writing and language that feels well thought out beforehand, with the right rhythm. “I trust that me and my writers, when taking a lot of time to craft a line of dialogue, are usually going to do a better job than even the most talented improv actor, making it up in the moment. I respect the craft of writing more than that. That’s not a slag on [Apatow]. It’s just a very, very different approach. I have deep trouble with improv used to create dialogue.”
- When it comes to favorite episodes from Season 1, Falk couldn’t narrow it down to just one. He liked the “Sunday Funday” episodes because you got to see the four main characters together and having fun the whole time. He thought Episode 9 was fun because of the flashbacks, which gave them some time for backstory. He also really liked the finale because it’s a Shakespeare farce with some really dramatic stuff.
- Outside of his own show, Falk does watch some other TV comedies with flawed characters. In talking about what he admires about them, he said, “I just finished Catastrophe. I know Rob Delaney and like him a lot, and I think they did a really nice job. Sharon Horgan’s great in creating these flawed characters. And I’m a big fan of BoJack Horseman. I know Raphael [Bob-Waksberg] and I think what he’s doing is really extraordinary, in terms of taking flawed characters on what could just be a surface show about a washed up actor who is in Hollywood, and who is vain and silly, and the characters question their motivations a lot. They question, ‘Why am I in this bad position? Why do I keep doing this to myself?’ That’s something that a lot of shows don’t do. They have the characters examine their own damage, and I think that’s pretty extraordinary, particularly in an animated show.”
Falk believes that people’s taste in comedy changes, and as for what it will look like in the future, it’s anyone’s guess. “People say, ‘The younger generation isn’t used to multi-cam,’ but a lot of children’s or tween programming is multi-cam. The biggest comedy on TV, The Big Bang Theory, is multi-cam, which generally just has a set-up/punchline structure. I come from the theater, so I don’t think that live audiences hurt comedy, at all. We’ve gone through a big era of mockumentary style, with The Office, Modern Family, and Parks and Rec. We’re still in the comedy of awkwardness that Larry Sanders brought to the forefront, and then there was The Office and Extras that really made that hip and part of the comedic lexicon. But, I think it’s always changing. Where it’s going to go, if I knew that, I would be a billionaire in the future, and maybe I will be. I don’t know. It’s difficult to keep up with the tastes to worry too much about that. Not to keep kicking a peacock when it’s down, but for NBC to pick up Coach and then say, as a reason why they’re not going to go forward with it, that it felt old-fashioned, even though it has the same creator, is mind-boggling to me.”
You’re the Worst returns on Wednesday, September 9th on FXX.