'You're the Worst' Boss on FX's Twisted Rom-Com: It's More Than "Are They Going to F—?"

Showrunner Stephen Falk talks with THR about how two horrible human beings are turning the sitcom world on its head
Byron Cohen/FX; AP Images
"You're the Worst" with Stephen Falk (inset)

FX's You're the Worst could be considered the anti-romantic comedy.

The series, created by Stephen Falk (Weeds, Orange Is the New Black), centers on two horrible human beings — Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) — and their misadventures in life, love and romance. But it's far from the typical "will they or won't they" love story.

Instead, Gretchen and Jimmy — described by critics "TV's best couple" and "one of TV's most watchable courtships" — get kicked out of weddings. Drink too much. Routinely flake on friends. Skip out on work. Drive drunk. And then try to date one another. And that's where the series takes off — two absolutely horrible people finding acceptance in each other's wickedness. The series also boasts an impressive ensemble cast, featuring Gretchen's best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue), who cheats on her pushover husband, and Edgar (Desmin Borges), Jimmy's ex-military friend and freeloading roommate suffering from a bad case of PTSD.

While the series hasn't been a ratings standout in an increasingly crowed summer, You're the Worst continues to ride a wave of critical support as it nears the finish line of its 10-episode run. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Falk to discuss the show's evolution, why the show resonates, what's ahead from the final two episodes and plans for a second season. (FX has not yet renewed the series.)

You mentioned YTW was your attempt to do a British, cable version of Mad About You. How did you pitch the show to FX?  

I talked about my post-divorce and dating life and used that to get into it. I said it's my attempt to do a traditional rom-com, but in a new way. I used the words British/U.K. cable version of Mad About You, but I'm not sure it's exactly that anymore. The show has gotten more into the ensemble element, which is always a secret hope with comedy writers. There's always push and pull with network, which would like you to stay on message with the main two characters, but people have embraced that Lindsay and Edgar really aren't just sidekicks. They have their own storylines and that's always been my intention. It's not ensemble, it's a romantic comedy first and foremost, but secretly, wink, wink, it's an ensemble.

And you addressed the sidekick joke in an episode, too.

The sidekicks become aware, like robots become aware. I always wanted to do that. I have this weird, high bullshit-o-meter. When you're doing any sort of genre show, which this is a bit, there are certain tropes and the writer in me knows they're tropes and wants to do what I can to address that fact while still letting them remain in that role. In a way, they are sidekicks but nobody sees them as a sidekick. There are so many characters in rom-coms who just exist to comment on the main person and that's not how life is.

Jimmy and Gretchen are very different characters than we've seen on TV before. Were they based on anyone you've known?

Jimmy definitely has elements of me. There are a couple people I know who I won't name, who have elements of Jimmy that I draw off of. A lot of this character came from Jimmy in Look Back in Anger, a British play from the 1950s that started the angry young man genre in theater and that has always been a touchstone for me. I find that character fascinating. Someone who rails against the dying of the light as Jimmy says, but is also inherently foolish and silly; that kind of angry young man character. I thought it would be a great way to get those rants out and that part of my personality out, but also make fun of it at the same time and have people take the piss out of them.

For Jimmy and Gretchen, being normal seems like the worst thing that could happen to them. Would you agree?

Much like Jimmy's belligerence of the world, the idea of living your life in fear of becoming something normal is inherently also silly but something a lot of us do. It's a very junior high childish instinct. Look at parents/siblings: "I'm not going to become that, I'll never be that!" That's not the point of life. The point of life is not to not become happy or not get married and have kids. The fear of getting normal is about something else, it's about a fear of death. For Jimmy and Gretchen, they both have those slightly immature beliefs. Seeing other couples and then seeing that they've become that would be horrible. But at the same time, it's a false belief system they're operating under. They are those people, they cuddle in bed, they have breakfast together, they speak of themselves as if they're cooler than the world. My main hope is that the audience knows I don't really think that's true. I don't think my characters are cooler than everyone else. There's a silly immaturity in that stance that makes them funny. It's an impulse many have and we recognize that it's dumb and lame and thankless to focus on not becoming cliches.

The series has drawn a dedicated if small audience. What do you think it is about the show that resonates?

Hopefully there's an honesty that people recognize. The writers and I spent a lot of time crafting a season that felt very much like a whole story. We almost treated it like a drama rather than a comedy. We weren't looking for the situation in the situation comedy. We broke it down like a three-act structure: the pilot being the prologue with different directors for each act. They each had different theme and visual style. That's something people have grafted on to. There's been a lack of romance on television and it's arguably the No. 1 impulse in humans, and it's not a niche topic. Hopefully that resonates and we're doing it in a way that's different and more complicated, but still fits within the world of TV comedy. I'm not setting out to subvert what TV is, at all; I love TV and grew up idolizing sitcoms. I want to make sure it fits into that but at same time, we're trying something different.

Are you pleased with the way FX has promoted the show?

Marketing is tough because they have to pick an angle and attitude. And maybe the attitude they chose, while accurate, turned other people off. It's not going to hit for everybody. I saw more than once, comments like, "I didn't think I was going to like this show. I didn't expect to like it." It was more in-the-face edgy than maybe the show is. It was a little more aggressive — like we were trying to be edgy — and that's not what we're trying to do. Having this couple have this explicit sex montage within the first four minutes of the pilot, that wasn't to say, "F— you viewers, I'll do whatever I want." It was because that's a type of person all of us have been before. We fall into bed with people and sex is weird and messy and there are odd conversations and weird pauses to go eat or smoke a cigarette, and people don't wear clothes while they have sex and there's fluids and it's weird and messy. I don't see our show as explicit. It's more honest than the sheet covering the woman's breast.

Eight episodes in, it's unclear if Jimmy or Gretchen have any redeeming qualities — yet we're rooting for them both individually and as a couple. Was that by design?

I take issue with a lot of the labels put on them and by design. I don't see them as horrible people at all. I think if we were to put in "acts of charity" that were designed to make the audience think Jimmy and Gretchen were better people, it would ring false and have the opposite effect. There are little things that show you the humanity that Gretchen and Jimmy do possess. Jimmy can say horrible things and even though he's taking advantage of Edgar, you can tell there's a true love between them. Would he jump in front of a train to save him? Probably not, because then he'd die, too, and he's a pragmatic person, but he'd certainly get drunk at his funeral and give a hell of a eulogy. And Gretchen, we give the audience a clue in how she got to be this way when we met her parents. You can see in her interactions with Sam (Brandon Smith) and her PR clients, that she cares about them. Even more relatable, Gretchen and Jimmy both know what a lot of us know, that love is painful, hard, icky, distasteful and cliche, and yet they're trying and going for it. There's something admirable in that. They're not just saying, I'm cutting myself off. There's something brave in that. No, we're not going to consciously try to make the characters more palatable or likable; these glimpses of humanity will keep coming through and by design. That's why the audience is responding, there's something recognizable in them; yes, they represent the worst part of us, but we're all damaged, and liars and sluts at times. They're heightened versions of that, and the fear of love and trepidation of putting their heart in someone else's hands is relatable. We all have those fears. That's why people root for them.

These two are both so toxic but yet work together and their break-up last week was gut wrenching. What can you say about where they go from here?

This week's episode is an origin story, so to speak. We are playing with some time in it and filling in some backstory. You see some scenes we saw already and other things that happened. We also get into what made Gretchen and Jimmy this way and have some fun with filling in information we've heard and didn't get to see. It's a fun and complicated episode. The season finale, like Lost, there will be answers to all your questions! There will be a bit of closure. We're not planning on leaving a lot hanging, but bringing in new complications. We also got the rights to a Kate Bush song, by my personally appealing to her because she famously does not let that happen. I'm very excited to share with the world, Kether's singing voice on "Woman's Work." All the characters that we've seen before are involved in these next couple episodes. We get to know Vern (Todd Robert Anderson) and Becca (Janet Varney) a bit more and learn about Paul (Allan McLeod) and Lindsay's weird relationship. We'll see the rappers and Killian (Shane Francis Smith) and have some closure with the bookstore cat.

Did you write season one as a stand-alone story with the idea that you may not get a second season?

I didn't write it thinking either way. If this was only a 10-episode season, it'd be pretty satisfying, but I would not be satisfied or happy. I know we've picked up a bit and there's been an avalanche of nice, friendly press lately, which is wonderful and very helpful. I would never try to second-guess John Landgraf. He's the smartest exec in TV. I'd hope we get a second season. We've made a really compelling season of TV and one that was exactly what I first pitched.

Do you have a plan for what season two would look like?

I do. I've always said that I think this concept works best when you track the course of a normal "course of a relationship" but through the weird lens of Jimmy and Gretchen inhabiting fears and bad impulses and bad decisions. The idea is to continue that way, but what that looks like I'm not sure. But this isn't a traditional rom-com. We got rid of the "Will they or won't they?" immediately. They did, and repeatedly within the first four minutes of the pilot. We're trying to prove that there's a lot more that's interesting to an audience by their relationship rather than just, "Are they going to f—?"

Edgar is refreshingly candid about his battles with PTSD. What kind of feedback have you gotten from the military community about that? Is there a world in which he gets help?

I hope so. I don't have a personal relationship to it, but veterans' rights is something that I've cared about for a long time. What we do to our military is awful after we've used them. We have military adviser, Sgt. Adam Renteria, who we thank every episode in the credits. I asked him for one thing he'd like people to know about veterans dealing with mental issues and he said that they have a great sense of humor about it — "We're just f—ing funny dudes who need some help." My goal is to humanize and familiarize and destigmatize, and some of that is involved in poking fun at it. We'll continue that. Desmin Borges has such humanity. One of the things I've been most pleased with is how people have reacted to him.

Lindsay seemed to cheat pretty easily on her husband. What does the show say about the state of marriage and how our generation values commitment?

Lindsay didn't get married for the right reason. There's deep sibling rivalry with her and Becca, and vying for their mom's attention and we'll see more of that. That had a lot to do with her decision to marry Paul, as did the fact that he's financially secure, and she wanted to stop her hard-partying ways because, at the end of the day, that can grow old. I don't know if it's meant to speak to the generation's view of marriage. It's meant to be specific to the character. One can draw a notion that it's probably a good idea to settle down with someone you love rather than someone that you think you should be with because it'll be easy and it'll piss off your sister.

You're the Worst airs on Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on FX.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

 

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