When “Married” premiered last year, it got a lot of attention for its top-notch cast, and deservedly so. Judy Greer, Nat Faxon, Paul Reiser, Jenny Slate and Brett Gelman all deserve their time in the spotlight, and boy did they get it during Season 1. But, a year later and with a full season already done, focus has shifted to what exactly it is that makes “Married” so unique in a TV world filed with so many married couples. Sure, the FX comedy fits the mold of what’s come before, but “Married” is so much more than that. Why? Because of creator Andrew Gurland.
It’s harder to explain what makes the FX comedy standout in a short, introductory summary, so instead let’s let Gurland — a former independent filmmaker who won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1998 — tell you himself. Below, the writer, director and creator of “Married” discusses working with his wife in the writers’ room, how he sets the tone for the series, why it’s important to focus on the parents in a family show, and what’s in store for Season 2.
Was there anything you learned from making Season 1 that you wanted to carry over into Season 2, since this was kind of your foray into TV?
Wait a second. Where are you from?
No, no no, I mean, like America.
Oh! [laughs] I’m from a very small town in Illinois.
In Illinois, okay. I love the accent, it’s interesting to me.
Oh well, thanks. I’m always surprised when people say I have one.
Yeah, it’s specific, it’s very specific, I couldn’t peg it. That’s one of my things that I’m very good at — I can tell where somebody’s from, just from hearing them talk for a sentence or two, and I couldn’t get you right away. Alright, so the question is, what did I learn in Season 1 that I applied to Season 2? Well, I learned so much more about the actors. I mean, specifically Nat [Faxon] and Judy [Greer] have so much chemistry, so episodes where they can be together are great. And I think that’s the biggest difference, is knowing the actors, knowing the characters and being able to explore their dynamics in a richer way. And that is sort of the advantage of TV over film. You get to continue to explore characters and relationships.
Yeah, and it really felt like a strong continuation from Season 1. If I was binge-watching “Married” in the future, I wouldn’t even notice much of a jump between seasons. Was there anything, tonally or structurally, that you wanted to play around with, or were you just so happy with the way things happened in Season 1?
Oh, there’s definitely things that we wanted to change, because last year we started the season where Russ (Nat Faxon) was more in crisis and Lina (Judy Greer) was having to deal with having a husband in crisis, and I feel like those are the types of cycles that happen in marriage. Sometimes, someone’s not doing so well and the other person can be there for them, and vice versa. So, in Season 2, Russ is in a bit of a better place and we explore Lina struggling a little more and becoming a little bit untethered.
What was the motivation for that decision? Why those specific characters?
Russ and Lina started as a reflection of my own marriage to my wife, Michelle. And then, after we cast Nat and Judy, the characters became an intersection of the original intention and what those actors brought to it.
Jenny Slate is going to be appearing in fewer episodes this season. Is there going to be a big narrative event to explain her absence, or are you just going to write more episodes without her being around?
What I would say about Jenny being on fewer episodes — I don’t want to give too many spoilers — but I think we saw that Jess [Slate] and Shep’s [Paul Reiser] marriage was facing a lot of challenges last year, and those challenges come to a head this year. Because one of the things we’re exploring this year is— you know, I just remember, before I was married or had children, how friends were really the biggest part of my life. And, the older you get and the more your time gets divided between work and family and your relationship or marriage, the less time you have for friends, specifically friends, that can be emotionally taxing. So, that’s one of the things we explore more this season, is kind of how friendships evolve as you continue through adulthood.
You were talking about how the relationship between a husband and wife changes with friends. They kind of just become a separate entity. Is that something you’ve experienced, or elaborated on a bit for the show?
I certainly have less time for friends now that work and family have become so demanding in my life. They’ve definitely moved into third. There’s no question about it, as it should be. […] I used to be a super-friend. I was the center of my social group in a lot of ways and was always trying to get people together and hang out and it’s a lot harder to do at this stage of my life.
In the first season as well as the first few episodes of Season 2, even though everybody in the show has children, the children aren’t really the focus. It’s more about how the adults act as parents in relation to their kids or who they are independent of them. I was curious why you made the choice to kind of keep the kids’ lives separate from the parents’ drama.
Well, I mean there is a family at the center of the show, but I don’t think of it as a family show. It’s an adult show that has to do with adult relationships. So, we have a lot more parenting stories, but they’re all through the perspective of the parents. One of the themes we are dealing with a lot is parenting and how our own relationship with our parents affects our parenting styles.
You did an interview with one of my colleagues last year where you talked about how one of your goals in Season 1 was to make 10 independent movies, rather than more serialized, traditional TV. Is that your goal for Season 2, as well?
Absolutely, that is always my approach for them, to all stand as their own separate pieces. You know, while we definitely have stories that are somewhat serialized, they definitely follow arcs, but I like to look at them as separate, complete entities.
Is that choice that you made because of your background as an independent filmmaker, or was that at all related to kind of making your show more accessible, or even binge-friendly?
A combination of background instincts and influences. I felt like “Louie” or, I love — what’s it called — “Enlightenment,” Mike White’s show. Those felt so complete to me, each one of them felt like its own little independent film, and got me really juiced about working in cable TV.
Are you drawing from multiple aspects of different shows, like pulling from a little segment of this, a little segment of that, or just kind of the feeling you got from the shows you appreciated or wanted to emulate?
I can’t really answer that as an “or” question. What I’ll say is, in the writers’ room, we sit down and we talk about observations we’ve made as parents, or spouses, or friends, and we put those ideas on a board and we try to figure out episode ideas to service them.
Did you have a particular moment in Season 1 that stood out to you as a favorite or as something that could embody the show if you had to point to it and say, “This is what our show is about?”
There were two episodes that I felt were really the target moving into Season 1. My two favorite episodes from the first season: They were “The Playdate” — Episode 105 — and “Halloween” — 109. Those really resonated with me the most, and show the potential for what Season 2 could be.
Could you maybe elaborate on that a little bit?
Oh, it’s just there was a maturity to [the episodes]. I love “The Playdate”; that feeling of being stuck with other adults that you normally would never interact with, except for the fact that your kids are friends with their kids. And, perhaps you make certain judgements about those people and then suddenly find yourself making connections with these people. So that was something that felt very honest to me about my own experiences and really felt good about it. And then, what was it about “Halloween”? I just felt like there was something about the Russ and Lina story and Halloween that they seemed so disconnected, and then by the end of it, you see that nothing is really resolved, but they’re still partners and on that same ride together and appreciate each other. And, in another episode, you might have resolved the story, [but] we didn’t resolve it at all. We just showed a connection between them that still exists in the face of their conflict.
The fact that both characters got full-time jobs in Season 2 was a little surprising to me because of how often money was discussed in Season 1. What motivated the decision to get them into the workplace?
Well, again that was inspired by my own life. I had a lot of ups and downs as it relates to money, and that always affects our relationships. And while it’s great to have money and jobs, when my wife and I are both working, we struggle with intimacy and family time because something’s got to give. So, I wanted to explore how some of the conflicts that are created even when you have a little bit more money.
What might those conflicts look like in Season 2, without getting too spoiler-y?
Just small things, like not being able to see your children and put them into bed. I mean, that’s a conflict, I work with a lot of young people who want to stay at work very late, and they don’t understand why I want to duck out and see my kids before they go to bed. So, I want to explore that. […] I’ve worked around a lot of young people who want to keep the party going and I can’t. I have to be uncool and ditch — even though I don’t really want to — because of my family. What are some of the other conflicts… My wife took a job working with kids and she burned out with our own three kids, having to do some work with children on top of that was emotionally taxing for her, and a great source of comedy in our lives. To hear her talk about those kids and what her true feelings about them were was very amusing to me. So, that was one of the big differences and also, my wife came to the writers’ room and [we] worked together on these episodes. So that has really been a great experience for me.
What was it like having your wife in the writers’ room like that?
It was nice for me because she’s so much— When I see her in real life, it’s in the morning when she’s a general trying to get the kids out the door, or at night when she’s exhausted from feeding them and getting them to bed. She’s not at her best in those situations, so when she would come into the writers’ room and be pitching ideas and interacting with other adults, and then her and I got to have lunch together, it was very special for our relationship.
That sounds great, and I feel like it’s kind of one of those unique situations that you might experience that a lot of other people don’t get to. Not a lot of people get to work with their spouses.
Yeah, it has been. There have been no real conflicts, I think sometimes it might get weird for the writers because suddenly my wife and I are in the middle of the room talking about our schedule and who’s picking up who from gymnastics or dance, and we’re just working that shit out in front of in front of everybody. [laughs]
I feel like, when I try to sum up “Married” quickly — in an elevator pitch, basically — it’s hard for me to touch on what makes it so different from a lot of shows that are out there. There are a lot of shows about married couples, but this has a unique feel to it. So I’m basically cheating here, and asking you to try to do that for me.
Perhaps we should do this interview in an elevator.
Yeah, exactly, yeah. [laughs]
Meet me at an elevator [laughs] and we’ll practice it. […] It’s a unique tone, and it’s hard-to-pitch tone, is what I would say. It has a unique combination of comedy — both silly comedy, romantic comedy, drama, gravitas, heartbreaking moments. It is a unique cocktail.
“Married” Season 2 premieres Thursday, July 16 at 10:30pm on FX.