“You’re the Worst” went home empty-handed at the Critics Choice Awards Sunday night (or did it?), but all is not lost for the critical darling and cult hit from Stephen Falk. Tracking the romantic lives of Jimmy, a published author still searching for the acclaim and fan base he deserves, and Gretchen, a publicist born into a profession she’s not sure she wants, “You’re the Worst” showcased an astute understanding of what drives modern romantic comedies by establishing a new story structure altogether. Brutal honesty, distinct characters and sharp writing (read: hilarious) made Season 1 one of the best comedies on television.
Now, Falk & Co. have to follow up with Season 2. Indiewire was lucky enough to speak with Falk just after production began in Glendale, CA (just a stone’s throw from their more permanent neighborhood of Silver Lake), grabbing some information on his regard for critics, how they’ve removed sex as an “engine” on the show and a “secret” road map for Season 2 and beyond (kind of).
The critical support for this show was huge for Season 1. But did you read reviews and look to social media for fan reaction?
Yes, I absolutely did. I would like to say that I rose above the reactions, but it’s such a massive temptation when you make a show in a vacuum and have no idea how it’s going to be received. Even when we were doing a show, like when I worked on “Weeds,” […] in the middle of our run, Twitter really became a way one could, in real time, track the reactions of the show, at least among those who bothered to tweet about it. So I sort of became a little addicted to that, and I think we were all just very curious how the show was going to be received. […] We debuted, I think, on the last night we finished Season 1, so we didn’t have any ability to alter the show to reaction, but we were certainly voraciously interested to see what people would think. I’m such a believer, or at least a payer of attention to critical thought on television. I started as a recapper. I’ve always been a fan of good criticism, and so it does matter to me what those educated in television and those who think about television critically, what they thought of it. I was incredibly gratified to see — at the beginning particularly but also as the season went on — to see how critics were really embracing the show. It meant more than just our survival, it meant a validation […] of what we’d been working on.
So does that curiosity and affinity for criticism cross over into the awards races? Do you keep track of the Emmys polls and predictions and stuff like that?
You know, I haven’t actually paid a lot of attention to the Emmy predictions. It’s strange for me, but for some reason I’ve just been so busy of late — this is our fourth day of production — that I somehow have just completely missed what people are saying people are going to go vote for. I haven’t paid attention, no.
If Gretchen, Aya Cash’s character on the show, was running the “You’re the Worst” Emmys campaign, what do you think she’d do to bolster your chances of getting nominated or winning?
She’d probably get information on the Emmys voters and send out shots of her boobs, and she would also then pretend not to care whatsover but then take tactics like that. She’d probably spend a lot of time finding out what the competition was and start underground smear campaigns against all of them.
In some of the other interviews I’ve read, your cast discussed how you keep your scripts to yourself. I was curious about that strategy, of not telling them everything that’s coming and informing them on a more need-to-know basis.
There are a few processes of thought that go into that. One, for example, we’re shooting the first four episodes right now and I want them to stay focused on that. I want them to stay as in the moment as possible. Their job is not really to have an overview of the season yet. Their job is to perform the each episode as its own. I don’t think necessarily that an actor needs to have the whole thing in their mind when they’re just trying to do the moment, so it has a lot to do with just trying to keep them focused, and keep them focused on what their job is right now. But then just sort of generally, I think not all the actors want to know, even if I was willing to tell them. I think Chris for example likes to sort of just keep what chunk we’re working on in mind, so I don’t want to give those actors who don’t want the information. I think a third part of it is it’s just kind of fun to torture them a little bit and to watch them squirm for information. There’s a little sadistic part of me that enjoys that as well.
One of the other quotes I found that I really liked was from Aya Cash, who described the show as not a “will-they-or-won’t-they” premise, but “they-will-and-how.” I was curious if that’s how you approached it as well?
Well yeah, that was sort of a good way of speaking to the kind of tropes of romantic comedy, and how I feel that it’s all been done. We’ve kind of reached the cyclical end of a type of romantic comedy, and that’s one way in which I think the show tries to attack and address the cliche conventions right away, and subvert them while still honoring them. In other words, so many romantic comedies have focused — specifically in TV because it’s the long view there rather than just a movie — have used the engine of are they going to have sex to sustain multiple seasons. But then you run into an inherent risk when you finally take that gas out of the tank. When they will, then you run into the risk of not knowing how to build story momentum and how to build tension because you’ve suddenly released all the tension. So this is a conscious effort to release that tension right away and to basically tell the audience ,”Okay, no. This is not gas that we’re going to use for this tank. We’re going to spend that in the first two minutes of the pilot, and therefore it’s going to be a show that derives the story out of the finer points of the relationship rather than just, “Are they going to have sex?” We answer that right away: “Yes, they are.”
I was a big fan of the attitude the show took toward the relationship, and as somebody who really loved “Friends” back in the day, I do agree; I think we, as an audience, have just kind of reached a point where that kind of long, drawn-out relationship between two characters we know will get together have reached a breaking point — we need to move on. We need something more to engage with in these shows.
Yeah, I kind of think so. Thank you for acknowledging that. I’m glad you liked it.
How far ahead do you map out in the story?
I can probably — if I wasn’t so focused on Season 2 right now — map out the first six seasons. Any creator who tells you they do that is lying because for the most part they’re not getting paid to do that so there’s no real interest in doing that. And also it negates the giant process of discovering as you go along what works, what doesn’t, where you may need to accelerate story, where you may need to decelerate. So I don’t believe that we could have really mapped out every season, but our show is following a romantic relationship. It’s not that much of a stretch to follow the major signposts that relationships tend to take, and now I’m going to give you a secret: my goal has always been to follow that road map more or less with a very specific lens of Jimmy and Gretchen’s very particular worldview. I think by hitting those very familiar marks— And you saw it in the first season. We kind of set it up that they’re going to move in together and then certainly it wasn’t for the right reason or at least not a traditional reason. So we’re going to hit the signposts I think, but through very strange methods that when you then step back and look at it, [it] makes complete sense that Jimmy and Gretchen would take those steps in that fucked up manner.
I read you structured Season 1 as three acts and then hired three different directors to handle those three acts. Are you doing the same thing for Season 2?
More or less, yeah. We’re doing 13 episodes, so yeah. [Season 1 consisted of 10 episodes.] We very much crafted it into a three-act-structure, it’s just that acts themselves are slightly different just because we’re doing as it turns out four more episodes than we did last year, because we’d already done the pilot. So whereas we filmed nine during the normal course of filming last year, we’re now doing 13. The short answer is yes, but sort of with slight modifications.
Was going up to 13 episodes something that you really pushed for, or something that FX wanted?
That was just something they proposed, and I couldn’t have been happier to oblige.
The move to FXX for Season 2 isn’t a huge deal from a fan’s perspective, but from a creator’s perspective I think it’s interesting. One of the case studies I came up with was that “The League” moved from FX to FXX and it saw a drop in the ratings, but it still earned another season. I was curious if it was more important to you to keep making the show then to have a bigger platform for exposure?
Gosh, you know, I feel like it’s going to be a bit of a letdown to this last question, but for me it doesn’t have any impact whatsoever except that there’s an extra “X” and a couple million less possible households, I think. Yeah, my production entity is the same, the studio is the same, my checks are the same. It doesn’t affect me, and I don’t know a lot of people who watch television per network. They just kind of program into their DVRs or download it or steal it or whatever they do. So yeah, I wish I had a smarter answer. I trust John Landgraf and his team who first approached me with the move, telling me that they’re way ahead of their five-year plan on what they want numbers-wise for FXX due to “The Simpsons,” and so they just sort of wanted to accelerate trying to forge an identity for that network. Along with “The League” and “Sunny,” and a couple other shows, we became a big part of that quest for a unique identity. Another way to look at it is with less possible viewers there is a lowering of the ratings threshold that we need to hit for their comfortability level for us to continue. So I don’t have any problem with that. I think that the show will continue. If it’s going to have any kind of success it’s probably going to be a word of mouth kind of thing. So as long as we have that, as long as the critics and viewers who loved it last season find it and continue to talk about it, I think we’re making interesting television this season; I think we’ll be okay.
[Editor’s Note: Indiewire’s Consider This is an ongoing series meant to raise awareness for Emmys contenders our editorial staff and readership find compelling, fascinating and deserving. Running throughout awards season, Consider This selections may be underdogs, frontrunners or somewhere in between. More importantly, they’re making damn good television we all should be watching, whether they’re nominated or not.]