8:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
Why 'You're the Worst' Is Boldly Taking on Depression
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's "LCD Soundsystem" episode of FXX's You're the Worst.]
FXX comedy You're the Worst is getting serious about clinical depression.
The sophomore series from creator Stephen Falk is exploring the mental illness via Aya Cash's Gretchen, who this season started sneaking off late at night and crying, alone, in her car. Subsequent episodes have seen boyfriend Jimmy (Chris Geere) attempt to "fix" her — with a spooky Sunday Funday — as she experimented with different coping mechanisms. The latter reached a new low for the character during Wednesday's episode, when Gretchen forced her way into her neighbors' (Justin Kirk and Tara Summers) lives by pretending to be them — by stealing their dog and walking away with their daughter. Her illusion was shattered when Rob (Kirk) confesses how truly unhappy he is in the life Gretchen thought was both perfect and, for her, possibly scary.
Here, Falk — who wrote and directed the episode — talks with THR about Gretchen's new low, why his show got serious and what he hopes to accomplish with the storyline the L.A. Times called the "best depiction of clinical depression. Ever."
Where did the decision to explore clinical depression come from?
We wanted to challenge ourselves and not just rest on goodwill and have the characters just have fun. We take every opportunity we can to get to know the characters more and deepen them. We set out last season to detail where Gretchen's personality flaws come from. It’s easy to write a very complex, f—ed up character and not get a hint into the origin or the issues that lead to someone burning down their apartment, constantly getting DUIs or never being able to get the UPS tags off their door. We started working and showing how bifurcated her personality had become in dealing with her family and their need for perfection, particularly her mother. It snowballed from there. When we started thinking about depression, it clicked and made a lot of sense. A lot of people in the creative community suffer from that, and we have a lot of experience with it. We decided to do something that immediately sounded like, “OK, that’s f—ing potentially boring and scary and something that would make the network immediately run screaming.” For all those reasons it became something that I couldn’t get out of my mind. We started running with it and trying to figure out how to make it visceral, interesting, at times funny and yet truly accurate for Gretchen’s journey because clinical depression takes a lot of different forms.
It's bold for a show that was on the bubble last season to take on such a tonal change. What kind of feedback did FX have when you pitched the story?
We pitched it to FX and they were very nervous, understandably, but eventually just said, "Make sure it’s interesting." After a month of being in the writers' room, I pitched the new season to [FX president] John Landgraf and his team. I remember a fair number of blank and/or worried stares across the table. They said, “If this is something you want to do, it sounds really interesting, we just think it sounds potentially like a downer.” I don’t care about bumming people out as long as I’m listening to some other emotion than, “I’m never watching this show again”-anger and I am happy and I feel like I’ve done my job as a storyteller. They were nervous about the Justin Kirk episode because it doesn’t feature any of our actors for the first few minutes. They asked me to protect myself by shooting it in a way that I could edit it differently. I took that as a good note, but not something I could worry about. Landgraf called me after watching that episode to tell me how much he liked it.
How much of Gretchen's depression was inspired by the overwhelming response you received to Edgar's (Desmin Borges) PTSD in season one?
It maybe emboldened us, but they were very separate decisions. It didn’t escape us, but our audience, while small, is sophisticated and willing to go into dark places with us. So it probably emboldened us.
What kind of message do you hope to send with Gretchen's story this season?
My first concern is to tell the next chapter in the novel of our show in the most interesting, organic, surprising and inevitable way. Nothing I do is meant to send a message other than perhaps that TV can be more challenging than some people expect or want it or think it can be. In terms of depression, I realize when you take something like that on, there is a certain amount of responsibility. The goal is always to make sure we got it right and that it’s right for our character. If anything, I hope to shine more light onto it. We're interested in how depression is portrayed in relationships. The conversation is going to be heated — and it already is after Jimmy decided to walk away from a crying Gretchen in her car during episode six. There was a lot of talk about, “Should he have stayed, should he have gone?” I’ve heard both from people who have suffered from depression. Or in episode seven when Gretchen says, “Jimmy, you can’t fix me,” and he says, “Oh, can’t I?!” I’ve heard differing points of view from people who want someone there to cheer them up or help them, and those who just want someone to sit next to them and not judge them. Having that conversation is probably worthwhile and probably us at least partially doing our job.
How much of this episode is Gretchen desperately trying to find a way to feel or feel normal? She kidnaps her neighbors' daughter and then pretends to take on their life.
She doesn’t stop what is clearly not only not right, but illegal and potentially dangerous. That is partially a symptom of what she’s going through, and partially Gretchen being Gretchen. This episode is her looking at these people, this life that she’s a little afraid of as well as a little disdainful of. They’re not “sweater people,” to use her words from episode one of the season. They are this hipstery family and people who she might make fun of normally. But in them she sees a way out and a mysterious thing that she’s both afraid of and certain that she will never be able to have or necessarily want. It’s that fascination and disdain that makes her try to slip their lives. Lexi saying, “Look, just because you buy into something that is kind of gross and dumb and whatever from the outside, it doesn’t end your life or make you immediately uncool."
There’s also a deeper point to that: people who continue to live their lives in opposition to becoming something they’re afraid of is someone who is not really living a full life. It’s both confusing to younger people, but hopefully comforting to older people. You can still rock, even though you have a mortgage. At the same time, it acknowledges that the desire to still try to rock while you have a mortgage and a kid is silly and sad as viewed from the outside. I'm someone who writes this show and at same time I literally am that guy now. I have Pixies posters, a daughter, a dog and I walk around Silverlake going to get coffee. I see the foolishness in that but I also see the foolishness in being afraid of it.
Gretchen is going through a lot and at the end when the illusion is pricked by Rob’s speech about how unhappy he is, it’s a devastating moment for her. Because she sees this slight possibility of a way out of her depression and the torment of growing older.
And after they leave, Gretchen tearfully walks home with Jimmy — who is oblivious to her crying. How much worse will things get for Gretchen? Where does she go from here?
What we’re trying to portray are different coping mechanisms that Gretchen has employed in order to stave off or get through her episodes of depression. In episode seven, we saw her trying to out-drink it, out-party it and out-dance it. In episode eight, yes, she was fooled [during Sunday Funday], it was under false pretenses, but she was briefly distracted by this crazy horror house that they went to. We saw her emerge from that excited. It was only when Jimmy revealed that he did it on purpose to try to snap her out of her depression after she asked him not to, and that he thought he fixed her. When Gretchen comes to Jimmy at the bar at the end of eight and says, “You fixed me! You’re right! All good!” she hopes that he will want to drop it. This is a new tactic that doesn’t work. It's probably into another tactic or the absence of ability to stave it off anymore. We're not going to gloss over it.
Lindsay (Kether Donohue) has encouraged Gretchen to let Jimmy in on things if they're going to have a real relationship. How will Gretchen struggle with that?
It’s too late; he’s in already. When the baggage is something so intense like clinical depression, it's unrealistic to assume that Jimmy is going to know how to deal with it because it’s really f—ing hard. That shows a couple at an impasse. It's not meant to just portray people with mental illness; it’s meant to portray any relationship. … We’re trying to portray the normal thing of, “OK, we’re together. F—, now what? Now what skeletons are going to be uncloseted?” This is an extreme example, but it’s not that unrealistic and not that uncommon.
Yes, Gretchen suffers from this thing, and everyone can get behind her on that, but it sucks for Jimmy, too. His attempt at giving her a fun day is, while clinically wrong, it’s not from a bad place. It’s from a common place of men wanting to fix. That’s one of the most common complaints from people suffering from clinical depression: that people want it to be over and that’s not how it works. Where do they go from here? What does Gretchen do? I don’t know. It’s a lot of work. It’s tough — and it never ends.
Jimmy has started flirting with someone else. What's her role in this?
Her function will become clear in that Jimmy and Gretchen’s situation is complicated. It’s not easy, and every time you get into a relationship, it immediately becomes less easy than a lot of other choices. It’s very easy to find someone attractive and flirt with someone. You're going to find someone less complicated and that's probably what he found in this bartender (played by Grey's Anatomy alum Tessa Ferrer). She's a pretty and easier alternative. What do you do when faced with that easier alternative? That is always going to pop up. That’s the real question and where the rubber hits the road. We’re going to see what changes and where they go from here.
You've got four episodes left of the season. How does this set up the season finale? Will there be a cliffhanger?
The [depression] storyline will play itself out in a very satisfying way. I think a lot of people who watch feel pessimistic about Jimmy and Gretchen's chances, and I acknowledge that. There certainly are hints that can be seen in the opening theme song lyrics ["gonna leave you anyway"]. I can’t say what they ending will be, but I think we’ll generate a lot of buzz from this season and we’ll see it all played out in hopefully surprising but inevitable ways.
Lindsay has started to slowly find her independence. What's her trajectory for the remainder of the season?
We try to play through things that we introduce. For Lindsay, the turkey baster at the end of episode three will play itself out in terms of what was behind that decision. Her dance with Paul (Allan McLeod) is not completely done.
Edgar is coming into his own with Dorothy (Collette Wolfe), who truly accepts him for who he is. How will their relationship evolve now that he's told her about Iraq?
He has so many unresolved issues and she does as well. She has a level of urgency and has some loose ends. She feels her life has been jump-started and is maybe not ready for that. Complications will arise from that, but I also want Edgar to be happy. As a creator, it’s difficult: you want your characters to just coast and be happy, but you also need to poke them with hot sticks of fire in order for the story to happen. That’s something I’ve been wrestling with for Edgar. I love them together, so you certainly will see more of them in the season.
Have you heard anything about a renewal for season three?
I don’t. Just like last season, I’m optimistic, but feel like we’ve told a satisfying story, but I’d love to have more chapters. But Landgraf stated that he considers a show renewal from three different people who get a vote [executives, critics and viewers]. Hopefully we’ll get that vote. I’ve done my job, and the network is happy with the job I’ve done.
You're the Worst airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. on FXX.