You’re the Worst is especially poignant for viewers who live in or near LA, but I think it can be enjoyed by anyone who’s cynical enough that they’ve ever considered stealing still-wrapped gifts from a wedding out of spite. That’s one way, in the very first scene of its pilot episode, the FX-cum-FXX show initially drew me in: by showing that your world won’t implode if you embrace those shitty urges once in a while. Who’s really going to miss a blender (she thought it was a food processor when she took it) anyway?
The show centers on Jimmy (Chris Geere), a jaded young writer with a single, mediocre book under his belt, and Gretchen (Aya Cash), a music publicist dealing with clients who tweet photos of their genitals and make her buy drugs for them because they’re “too famous” to get their own. With self-conscious house wife Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and PTSD-suffering softie Edgar (Desmin Borges), plus a cast of equally flawed supporting characters, they traipse around hip LA neighborhoods like Silverlake stealing cats and posing as veterans to get discounts on brunch.
Most of these characters aren’t very likable on the surface. If they were your friends in real life, you’d wonder what’s wrong with them and tell them to get their acts together before they burn their apartments down (which happens in season 1). But on You’re the Worst, creator Stephen Falk—who routinely references Shakespeare during interviews—strikes an unlikely balance, and it just works.
With season 2 premiering this week on FXX, Playboy sat down for a chat with Falk to find out where the show originated, how he ensures his characters don’t become too despicable, and what he thinks is the worst thing any of them has ever done.
What’s the show’s origin story? How did you pitch it?
Stephen Falk: I pitched it as a boozy, fucked up, cable-y, British-y version of Mad About You. The origin story, there’s sort of a couple of components. One is personal stuff—I had this almost boring, low level horrible divorce that kind of stretched on and kind of shattered my tenuous belief in love, and then entering the dating world and all its horror—this came out of navigating that. And then of course finding love again and what it means to have fully bought in even though you sort of didn’t believe. For a non-believer to buy in and then have that go wrong, can you ever believe again? It was coming out of a bit of that personally.
And just sort of professionally I came off of an NBC show that failed to make it on the air. Even though we were picked up we got canceled before we aired. And I was working on Orange is the New Black for my old boss Jenji [Kohan, that show’s creator], and kind of wondering what to do. I’d heard that FX wanted me to pitch something. This was sort of me just being very stubborn and saying, ‘I will pitch another show but I will not try to give you what you want. I will only do exactly what I want. And if it fails it doesn’t matter. If you don’t pick it up, you don’t want me to write the pilot or greenlight the pilot or pick up the series that’s fine, but at least I’ll go down swinging exactly at the pitch I want to.’“
So that was sort of the origin and then just specifically I’ve always been a big softie, a big fan of romantic comedies, and thought the genre—I hadn’t seen anything interesting in the genre, either on film or television, in a long, long time, and this was my attempt to whole cloth try to shake off the dust and try to make something new out of it.
Given the origin in your own breakup, do you identify with Jimmy—who’s jaded from a failed marriage proposal—the most?
I would say, well, OK. Yeah, I guess so. But I think I have a bit of Gretchen in me as well, where she just kind of doesn’t believe in it. Jimmy doesn’t want to do it ever again, and Gretchen doesn’t believe in it just sort of from her background and from her history. She’s from an almost more cynical point of view, but not one that’s been damaged like Jimmy’s philosophy has. So yeah, a bit of both, I think.
You said that you want it to be an ensemble show. How do you accomplish that with a romantic comedy that does have two clear leads? Is Lindsay and Edgar’s realization in season 1 that they’re the "sidekicks” a nod to that?
Yeah, absolutely. In romantic comedies you have these functionaries; going back to Shakespeare you have the “sidekicks.” Back then it may have been the best soldier friend, and for her, her handmaiden. And now it’s usually a couple of ethnically ambiguous best friends, and they function almost solely as sounding boards. (I will say, though, that Shakespeare realized this is bullshit pretty early on, and gave a lot of the sidekicks their own stories, like in Twelfth Night, which is pretty cool—I just actually thought of that.) But I always found that to be kind of a bullshit approach to character. No characters function as satellites to other people, at least not in their minds, though they may in practice.
So that episode we did last season was a little meta, where they realize they’re sidekicks. It was just my little nod to say 'Look, I get it, but these people need to be there. And some of you may be watching going 'bullshit,’ like I would, but I’m here to tell you that you’re in safer hands. I’m aware of it and we’re going to try to subvert that and make them fully fleshed-out, dimensional characters.’
I sort of think that’s a big key to being a satisfied viewer, is to feel like you’re in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, so that when you go through a period of time, whole episodes, where you’re maybe not loving it as much, I think it allows the audience to go 'OK, well, I trust this guy, unless he fucks me like three separate times'—like people felt with Lost—'I’m just along for the ride and I’m along for the story.’ That was my approach to the side characters.
And just generally, the sitcoms over the years I’ve loved most, from Cheers to Friends to It’s Always Sunny, tend to be more ensemble shows. And Jimmy and Gretchen, it’s always going to be their relationship as the connective tissue. You know, I think it’s important to have a fleshed-out world. And it’s just honestly easier if when we’re in the writer’s room we’re allowed to really delve into what is going on with Lindsay and Paul’s relationship, or what the fuck happens behind Vernon’s and Becca’s closed doors, or, you know, what’s going on with Sam, Honey Nutz and Shitstain, like when they’re alone. I think to cut us off narratively from being able to kind of delve into another point of view and see that would be to leave a lot of story on the table. And I hate to leave story on the table.
They don’t feel like typical side characters.
Yeah I think that’s always a big focus in our writer’s room, is dimensionalizing everyone and sort of everything that we do in the room. So if we’re going to introduce a character, we’re going to always try to pick it up, twist it a little, really examine what’s on the other side—it just makes the character more fleshed out than “Waitress No. 3,” you know? or “Rapper,” you know? I’d never want to, unless they’re only in one scene, write a character that’s just known by that name.
When I watched the pilot for the first time I was kind of shocked that it was an FX show, especially with the sex scenes. Do you feel like you got away with a lot then and tried to tone it down, or have you pushed at FX’s boundaries in other ways?
People have been pulling that out. We did have what I thought was a pretty hot threesome in episode 7 last season, and there’s a lot of fucking in episode 6, where they’re basically trying to one-up each other in hookups. But I just think the show is about more than sex and I think that it was not a crass ploy in any way to get horny people to watch our show by having a lot of sex in the pilot. It was just, you know, my desire to portray a hookup in a way. People meet at weddings and they go and bone, and sometimes it lasts all night, and sometimes there’s talking in the middle of it.
One of the origins of the show was the idea of when you are single, as I was during that period after my marriage, where you hook up and it was imagining that notion of what if you actually tried to make a go of one of these rather than just saying 'Well, that was fun. Bye!’ And I just think sex is often portrayed in film and TV as either just kind of a laugh, like semen-flying-everywhere kind of jokes; or it’s just kind of treated more seriously, it’s kind of boring and gross and not sexy. So I was trying to ride the line between those. So yeah, they’ll keep having sex; it’s just not necessarily the main thrust—no pun intended—of the show.
What do you think is the worst thing anyone on the show has done?
They’re pretty mean to Killian [Jimmy’s neighbor]. I think the worst character for me, I’d have to say, is Becca, who’s Lindsay’s sister. She’s just 100% passive aggressive and belittling to her sister. Everything is competitive, and there’s no point to it; there’s no victory. But the woman who plays her, Janet Varney, when she gets a smug look of satisfaction of having gotten one over on Lindsay—who, face it, is pretty easy to get stuff over on—it just makes me laugh a lot. I think she’s super funny. So yeah, pretty much everything Becca does to Lindsay is awful. And you get a lot more of her in season 2.
Where do you think the line is where they’re being too awful, where you’ve gone too far and they’re no longer likable?
I think it’s just a taste thing. I think there’s an inherent barometer that, having birthed these babies, I just have as another sense. It often will come up in the writer’s room with something that makes us laugh, but then after a while, after we really examine it, then it’s just like nah, that’s too fucking mean. Or we’ll have Jimmy rip into someone, and at a certain point I’ll go alright, that’s funny, but let’s tone it down. That’s bordering on unlikable. So really it’s just an internal barometer.
What’s your favorite episode of season 1 and what’s your favorite episode of season 2?
My favorite episode of season 1 is probably the finale. I think, I mean, episode 9, which is the flashback episode, is fun for its sort of acrobatics. And I think 5 is kind of the audience favorite—Sunday Funday episode, which is the first time you get to see the four of them as an ensemble out in the world just fucking around and having fun. And I have a soft spot for the pilot because we put a lot of work into that and it got the show picked up and the director did a great job on it. But the finale I think is sort of operating on all cylinders. And everyone in our ensemble—well, not the rappers, but everyone’s sort of involved and it’s really just a big farce, the party scene, the speech that gets interrupted and all the revelations. I was writing it at a hotel in Vegas and I was like, can I really get away with this? It’s like some big farce, some big climax of a Shakespearean comedy, when everyone, you know, 'Oh my god, he’s actually been a girl or a boy the whole time!’ It’s silly but I think it works a lot. There’s one effects shot of the fire that I don’t love, but it doesn’t quite spoil it for me.
This season I’m in the middle of editing right now. We do a bottle episode in episode 7 that—a bottle episode is an episode where you don’t leave the confines of a set, it’s usually done to save money in the middle of a season when you’re running over budget (ours was the opposite—it was actually more expensive because we’re a location show, so we don’t actually have a set. We had to rent this guy’s house and we just paid more and more every time). But it’s a fun attempt to pull something off in an interesting way, and I think we did, so I’m loving that episode. But gosh, then episode 8 is our Sunday Funday episode this season, and it’s a pretty—we kind of set the bar really high. It’s a crazy Halloween episode. And because you love what you’re working on, right now I’m working on episode 9, which I directed, which is a really strange, almost mumblecore-homage-slash-takedown. Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting stuff this season.
You’re the Worst season 2 premieres September 9 on FXX at 10:30PM ET/PT.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games—although he takes the occasional break to watch TV shows about horrible characters he relates with a bit too much, like Game of Thrones and You’re the Worst. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.