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An Interview with You’re the Worst’s Stephen Falk

Talk Nerdy With Us recently participated in a conference call with writer and producer Stephen Falk. Read our interview below to find out what’s in store for Jimmy, Gretchen, Edgar and Lindsay this season on You’re the Worst!

Last season you structured the season in three acts and used different directors for those three acts. Can you talk a little bit about how that worked and if you’re going to do that again this season?

“Yes, it’s really simple. We had ten episodes, we had already shot the pilot, and so I’m always looking as a storyteller to find structure. It just helps. And I’m not really good at winging things, and so I wanted to attempt to make the season feel like a very cohesive story. We’re not CSI. We can tell a longer form story while trying to make the episodes individual and have their own feel at the same time.

So, I really just broke it down like any story, into three acts, and the first act was our first four episodes. And we had a different director for, well, the pilot was a special case. And then we had one director for two, three, four. And then we had a different director for five, six, seven, which was our second act.

The first act was really Jimmy and Gretchen feeling each other out, trying to establish what are the rules or non-rules for this relationship. And then five, six, seven, which really kicked off with our “Sunday Funday” episode, was them in it and kind of having fun. So there was the “Sunday Funday” episode, there was “PTSD,” which was them basically just trying to f**k other people to make the other jealous.

And then there was our recent episode to avoid having to deal with each other’s feelings, which then led into act three, which was yet another director. Sorry, the second director was our pilot director, Jordan Vogt- Roberts, and our first director was Alex Hardcastle, and the third director was Matt Shakman, and he did eight, nine, and ten, which were more emotional episodes, we had a flashback episode, and then the finale. And it was really Jimmy and Gretchen having to go, “Oh, s**t we’re actually in this,” and make the decision to be in it.

It worked really well, both as I think making a cohesive season and allowing us to have a really structured writing process. So, I did it again, very quickly, 13 episodes this year. I considered the first four as one-act, and that had one director, again, Alex Hardcastle. And then the middle six I broke into a two-part second act, so that’s six episodes for the second act.

And then the last, let me check my math, oh, the last three for the third act. That middle act had a couple different directors, including myself. I did two. And, yes, they each have their own theme and their own kind of feel, and I think it makes for a more dynamic and cohesive season.”

You really nailed the Silverlake hipster character, so we were wondering if you based these characters on anybody that you know?

“Well, the fallacy of hipsterdom as being a thing is that no one will admit to being one. Usually the people who are using the terms are or could be considered. It’s usually the guy with the handlebar mustache riding a unicycle, and the people at home who are like, “Oh, look at these hipsters.” It’s really a false appellation.

But, no, it’s really just having lived for years in the Village in New York and here. I grew up in Berkeley, which also has a lot, a lot of hipster culture. It’s just being steeped in it. And like anything I write in the show I’m guilty of most of the things that my characters rail against, including, well, Jimmy, we get into a lot of this season about his pretentious ideas about what it is to be a writer, and I’m guilty of all those things. If you have a good amount of self-awareness you can make fun of what you actually are.

So, yes, I live in Los Feliz. I’m about to have my first kid. I have a dog that I take everywhere. I drive a Vespa. I’m disgusted with myself, but it allows me to take swings at targets that also hurt when I do.”

There are a lot of shows dealing with relationships and dating. Why do you think this show pops out from the rest?

“I think a couple of things. One, my cast is extraordinary. I think that has a lot to do with FX allowing me to cast people who weren’t famous, or even semi-famous, or even known within the casting community necessarily. And they really believed in my desire to have the best actors I could find, not the prettiest, or those with a million Twitter followers, or whatever a lot of casting decisions are made by.

And I think that also I tasked myself and the writers with digging deep and always making sure that we’re cognizant of how human beings really behave and feel. And treating relationships, while they’re incredibly silly and funny and messy and dumb, they’re also our primary relationships aside from our parental relationships. They’re deeply important to us.

And to treat that importance with respect I think is maybe something that lifts it a little above the crowd. Then also just being a student of television and film, and when I say “student” that sounds really high falutin’. I just mean I was stuck in front of the TV as a kid a lot, and just having an inherent sense of what is fresh and what is cliché by having my DNA really infused with television and film structure.

So, I know what not to do hopefully most of the time, or at least some of the time, in making a romantic comedy feel fresh, because I’ve seen all the clichés 100 times.”

Do you have a favorite episode from last season?

“It’s a toss-up. “Sunday Funday” was really fun because we got to see the four main characters together the whole time and having fun, and it had a lot of fun, visceral things, and 17 locations. And I really liked the finale. I think it’s very farcical. It’s a Shakespeare farce. But there’s some really dramatic stuff.

But I think nine is fun, just because it’s a flashback episode and we got to use silly wigs and fill in some of the back story, which was a real treat for us, because that’s not something you get to do unless you’re writing Lost or Orange is the New Black, which I also worked on. So, maybe I just became addicted to that form.

There seems to be a trend towards romantic comedy with either, you could say, unlikeable, or you could say realistic characters that we’re meant to root for. And I was wondering how you strike that balance. How do you strike a balance between unlikeable, realistic and root for-able characters?

“I think you’ve got to be very aware of the tightrope you’re on, while at the same time being free to let the characters say whatever they want to without fear of censoring yourself. I think that we’re hopefully beginning to exit a long, dark period of time where characters, according to the executives who pay for the shows, have to be “likeable,” which I think is a complete fallacy and a misunderstanding of not only comedy but of human behavior and the reality of humanity.

I think that hopefully American television is entering a period where we allow our characters to be actually flawed and not just TV flawed, because we all are. And all that can mean is we’re bringing our television writing a little closer to reality of human behavior and of human beings in general as being dark, and damaged, and f**ked up, and having bad motivations, and terrible instincts, and making mistakes, and still yearning for connection.

The danger in all of that is you’re trying to write a character that “feels edgy” and I think, and I’ve read a lot of those kind of scripts, particularly a lot of submissions for, once I did the pilot for my writing staff, agents would then go, “Oh, this is a good sample because it’s full of d**kheads.

Man, they’re edgy d**kheads.” And that’s not at all what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to create characters who are flawed, and certainly they’re more flawed than a lot, but they represent the dark parts in all of us that still yearn for love and connection. “

Are there any other shows right now on television that are doing this in a way you admire?

“I haven’t watched Difficult People, but I hear that that has elements of it. I just finished Catastrophe. I know Rob Delaney, and I like him a lot. And I think they did a really nice job. Sharon Horgan’s great in creating these flawed characters. I can’t think of any other offhand. BoJack Horseman, I’m a big fan of that.

I know Raphael. And I think what he’s doing is really extraordinary in terms of taking flawed characters, which could just be a surface show about a washed up actor, and who is in Hollywood vain and silly, and the characters question their motivation a lot, they question their “Why am I in this bad position? Why do I keep doing this to myself?” And that’s something that a lot of shows don’t do, have the characters examine their own damage. And I think that’s pretty extraordinary, particularly in an animated show.”

You came from writing features, can you talk a bit about what you had to learn to transition into writing TV, what that was like?

“Oh, boy. Yes, my relationship with screenplay writing is kind of troubled. We have issues, me and screenplay writing. We’re in a fight right now. No, we’re actually in a good place. We used to be in a fight. I’m trying to think of the actual transition. I still do both. I just finished a feature adaptation of a book for a company. TV scripts are a lot shorter, which is awesome, because you’re done quicker.

You have to be cognizant, I think, of your voice. And I had a problem in that I thought movies had to be one thing and I thought TV had to be another thing. And to a certain extent it’s true, depending on what you’re writing. But it all came together for me very late, and only when I stopped being super conscious of what the difference was. Obviously, inherently in the movie you have a more closed-end story; you’re telling the full three act structure in one 120 page block, whereas, in television you’re telling a story but then you’re setting up multiple years of stories after that.

So, you have to inherently put in story engines, which is something that you don’t have to in screenplays. Wherein when you’re creating a pilot of a TV show you have to then identify, okay, what is going to be generating story, what specifically are these characters going to conflict over?

A really good example that I always think of is Mulder and Scully, right? So, you take those two characters and you think of their world views, you always think of characters in what is their world view, and you want to find characters who have opposing world views, or at least conflicting, contrasting world views. Mulder and Scully, you drop any story into the middle of them, those two characters, and they’re going to have opposing world views. One believes and one doesn’t, right? So, that’s a very binary and simply idea.

But even if anyone walks into Cheers, Sam’s going to have a very different take from Diane, who’s going to have a very different take from Woody, who’s going to then have a very different take from Carla on that person, place, conflict, event. And so really it’s looking long-term for how am I going to generate story easily with these characters in a repeatable way. That’s really the big difference, I think.”

For Edgar, how do you strike that balance, or make sure that the audience is laughing with him and not at him, and if you could also tease where he’s going this season as well?

“I think it’s okay if the audience laughs at a character sometimes. But, again it’s really just having respect for your characters. I even have respect for the awful ones like Becca and Vernon. I generally like them and I don’t want to see harm come to them, or I don’t like to see them sad for that long. It also gets mixed up with the actors, because I love all the actors so much.

But at the same time it’s fun to kick your characters and watch them have to writhe, at least revel in the muck for a while before trying to struggle their way out of it. That’s really fun. And I think if you’re writing comedy you’d better put your characters to the test and put them in sh**ty situations.

That said, Edgar is, I think I felt after last season that I wanted to give Edgar a little more identity beyond just being a veteran, because that’s one of the things I heard from talking to veterans, and in particular one guy we had come in and talk to the room, that they’d like to be thought of as more, as we all would not like to be labeled.

So, this season Edgar gets a hobby, gets an interest, and has a love interest as well. But he’s always still dealing, as I think veterans who saw a lot of combat are, with the after effects of that and trying to re-engage in the normal world, and also help the real world and bring him back into the fold of just being a normal dude with girl problems. And so that’s what we’re trying to do this season. Yes, he has a lot of fun stuff.”

Is the love interest Lindsay? Are we picking up on that plot that was introduced at the end of the season?

“We’re absolutely picking up on it. Yes, Lindsay and Edgar will definitely go places, but I don’t think the end of their story is written yet in this season.”

Do you have certain influences, or maybe personal experiences that you’ve brought, where you really nailed that painful waiting that everybody goes through in relationships?

“Yes. One of my formulative creators, I think, was John Hughes. I think a lot of people my age, that really spoke to me when I was going through that hormonal time. I think there’s a lot of beautiful yearning in Chekhov, with whom I was obsessed when I was in acting school, NYU, and became really engrossed in the way that his characters long and yearn.

And then just personally having been a big softie and a big romantic, a big overly dramatic romantic from my youth, and then going through the normal relationships we all do. And then finally finding it, and buying in, and getting married, and then having that not work out all of a sudden and go through a divorce was very formulative to the world view of this show.

It was me trying to reconcile, oh, my God well, if you believe and then it doesn’t work, and you didn’t really want to believe in the first place, how the f**k do you try to believe again, which I have done. But it’s a long road and a long process. And I think just being attuned to the ways in which we get knocked down and continue to try to struggle helped me to write this show. And also just having more on a business level having tried to write a TV show for a network and having failed by certain measures, it freed me up to just say, well, I’m just going to write this one for me. And who gives a s**t if I’m conforming to some network idea that isn’t maybe even very clear in the first place. And so it allowed me to be personal in a way that I had never been before.”

What was it like hearing about the move to FXX. Obviously, there’s a certain sense of launch, and a rooting for the shows on FX that you always have, but then we’ve seen shows that have been moved to FXX which I think everybody loves, whether it be Wilfred, or something else, but I think there’s a lot of hard-core fans of You’re the Worst that maybe were hopeful but at the same time were also a little worried.

“Yes, I just very simply got a call from a handful of FX executives, including John Landgraf, who told me we were getting picked up for 13 but we were moving to FXX, which to be honest felt a little like a demotion. But it was quickly explained to me why and what the thinking in it was. And they’re not fools, they’re absolutely aware that a creative risk show that’s moving to FXX in its incipient form may feel like a demotion, to the minors or something.

But, yes, at the end of that conversation I felt a lot better about it. And at that point I was only worried about how it would read to you guys, to the critics, and to the audience. But in terms of how we watch television these days I don’t think it really matters, except that FXX is in less households.

I’m not sure what the current count is. But there’s a good side to that for me is that it lowers our ratings threshold. Because we’re in fewer homes we have to hit less eyeballs for them to be happy. But at this point it’s not even on my radar until I get asked that question. So, that’s as honest as I can be about it.”

With Jimmy and Gretchen now sharing space, can you comment on some of the character and storytelling opportunities that that new layer opens up for Season 2?

“What it opens up is that they can just wake up together every morning, but I guess they could have anyway. It’s inherently problematic. It’s the next step in a normal relationship, a typical relationship, and yet it’s inherently hacky in that it could go real sitcom-y and real bad. A lot of domestic sitcoms have dwelled in cohabitation, and I’m not particularly interested in retreading over story lines that other shows have done and could probably do in a much more expedient and humorous way than I can.

So, it’s really functioning more as a way to advance their relationship, rather than let’s generate a lot of story out of it, although we do deal with it in the first few episodes, what it means to live together. Really what it does is it scares the s**t out of them, and so more than watching like, “Who’s going to do the laundry?” arguments we really got to delve instead to see when you make Jimmy and Gretchen take a step towards each other, towards domesticity, what does that do to them. How does it scare them, and in what ways does their fear manifest into behavior? And that’s really where we were having the most fun this season.

And then we quickly, we didn’t want to dwell in that world too much and we spun the season out into a bigger storyline that doesn’t really have a lot to do with it, though it’s connected to their cohabitation.”

What can you tell us about Lindsay and where she’s going in Season 2?

“Yes, Heather is awesome, and really good at singing. Yes, Lindsay, basically, whether we’re successful or not we can always be counted on to follow through on story lines that we introduce. But see where we last leave her was that Paul announced that he was divorcing her, he wanted to consciously uncouple with her, a woman who’s nice to him even though he hasn’t met her yet, “IRL,” as he says this season.

And so we’ll see Lindsay floundering in the wake of having been abandoned by someone, yes, who she didn’t really love that much, but no one likes to be left, and certainly not someone like Lindsay. So, we’ll watch her having to live on her own, which is a challenge both on a rudimentary day-to-day level but also emotionally.

And we’ll see her become aware of Edgar’s crush on her that we saw during that song, and she will decide how to behave with that. And then also she’ll try to find what’s her place now, what does she do, because she doesn’t really do anything. If she’s not a wife of a guy who has a bit of cash, what is she now, and so we find her on a self-awareness. But also she’s mad that Paul has a girlfriend and wants to destroy that.”

 

 

You’re the Worst Season 2 premieres tonight, September 9th, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time on FXX.

 

 

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