You're the Worst is the dark horse of the comedy world. Coming off an acclaimed (but not widely-watched) freshman season, You're the Worst Season 2 has become a critical darling – and for good reason.
In balancing laugh-out-loud humor and a slew of pop culture references against darker subject matter and emotional authenticity, Falk and his team of writers have created a unique and memorable beast among the many other half-hour comedies currently on the air.
On a recent Q&A call with Falk prior to the You're the Worst Season Finale, he discussed his "fantastic" actors, the upsides of using pop-culture references, the influence of his theater background, and the vague possibility of a musical episode in the show's future.
On successfully writing and directing subtlety and drama
A lot of it is due to how fantastic the actors are. They execute those little shots through the heart. I try, when we’re sitting down with the writing staff, to not cut ourselves off from anything in terms of tonality or drama or anything. My writing is terrible when I feel really limited. I’m not a genre writer, I just couldn’t do it. I need to write stuff that feels personal and that feels emotionally engaging. So doing straight-jokey stuff – I just don’t think I’d be able to do it, because even as a viewer, I can watch straight comedy but I do need to also be engaged on some level.
This is my first time directing this year and having a theater background helped a lot. The first thing to be able to do is once you can eliminate any idea about what you’re “supposed” to be doing, any fear of “What the fuck am I doing, putting this in a comedy?” [laughs] and then you can kind of relax into it and really just have the actors play the truth of the moment.
The first episode I directed was You're the Worst Season 2 Episode 9, “LCD Soundsystem” this season and there’s a very, very dramatic moment at the end when Gretchen starts crying as she’s walking away while Jimmy is talking, oblivious to her pain. And that was a big process but really, as a director, I just sort of made sure the camera was in the right place and wrote it in such a way that [Aya Cash] knew what I wanted and what the scene needed and then Aya just took it from there; that’s all the credit to her.
On pop-culture references and “evergreen” comedy
Myself but also my writers are – probably to the detriment of our personal lives or all the great novels we could be reading – we’re all very tuned in to pop culture. And I’m aware that those sorts of references can not be evergreen, can kind of date something. But at the same time, my belief is that the more specific you get in building your world, the more universal you can be. I think for characters, particularly characters at this age in Los Angeles, it would feel false to not be name-checking bands and movies and TV shows and products, really. And Fox hates it – we don’t get paid, we’re not doing endorsements. It’s just being culturally aware and then also wanting it to seem real.
On playing stories out over the course of a season, instead of in a singular episode format
There are shows that can exist more episodically – like It’s Always Sunny – “The guys go get abortions!” or whatever. I don’t know if that was an episode but it sounds like it. That’s the form of that show and it’s a brilliant show. We’re a little more long-form storytelling and I’m always very cognizant of trying to make the whole season feel like one story. It may be a detriment to giving an entrance point to new audience members but at the same time I think we do have enough stand alone stuff that it’s [still] funny.
On Gretchen’s depression and balancing her personality with her depression
That’s a big topic in the writer’s room. I mean, not to name check anyone, but I think we all have experience with it (depression, specifically). Beyond our own experience, we did a lot of research into clinical research and articles about what happens to a relationship in depression, because it wasn’t just about isolated depression but depression’s effect on a relationship.
And then, it’s an interesting question: if you strip away the disease, is Gretchen a different person? Well, kind of. But at the same time, I think what makes human beings so complicated, so frustratingly complicated, is that perhaps if you, without thinking of all the things [the depression] did to her in forming her personality, if you take those away – if she didn’t suffer from clinical depression or could be completely cured with a pill or a shot or something, she probably would still be a narcissist, an asshole, a liar. [laughs] So I think that’s just sort of the fundamentals of her characters. On top of which, lucky for her, she has this other thing [depression] to contend with.
On how having a theater background plays into the show
Certainly a piece of inspiration [specific to theater] was the John Osborne play “Look Back in Anger.” The lead character is named Jimmy and there’s a direct line between that character and Jimmy Shive-Overly.
And I think certainly an affinity for dialogue definitely comes directly from the theater.
On plans for Season 3
If we try to do something equally dark and potentially issue-y, like tackle depression, if we did that in season 3, I think we would risk also repeating ourselves and it would just feel a little creatively suspect. So I don’t know exactly. I’m excited to get back into the writer’s room in January, hopefully, and find out. But I think we learned a lot about what the network has tolerance for, what the audience has the appetite and the intellectual capacity for, and I certainly learned – even though I knew – how I can stretch the actors and the writers in any different surprising directions. The landscape is wide open. I’m very, very excited to see what we come up with.
On the possibility of a musical episode for the next “Sunday Funday”
I think that’s a fantastic idea (not promising anything!) I had a similar thought, that if we were going to do “Sunday Funday” again, it would have to be something very different and something very exciting to tackle. So yeah, maybe! I love music, my composer and Tiffany Anders who finds tracks for us, are both brilliant. The actors – I haven’t heard all their singing voices – but they all like singing. So far I’ve only heard a couple. And we have the rappers there. And clearly this season there was a lot of music!
I’d love to get more musical without it feeling like late season desperation or boredom, which I think it can [feel like] for certain shows. Not that it was desperation for Buffy or Scrubs or whatever. But there’s numerous examples of shows that were just in their twilight and were like “Fuck it, let’s do a musical!” So I’d have to feel internally that it wasn’t feeling like that.
On You’re the Worst’s recurring characters
It’s very important for me, when possible, to make sure that everyone feels like they’re three dimensional. I know Todd Robert Anderson [Vernon] from college [laughs] and we were in a comedy group together and he’s one of my favorite actors. He had one line in the pilot but I always sort of hoped to build his character. Certainly, that character is very much tailor-made for his incredibly weird comic tone, and also his ability to go really dark and serious, like his monologue talking about when the character was born dead [laughs] which was really super touching.
Janet Varney, Becca was very different in the pilot. As Janet plays her (for lack of a better word) she is such a cooze, as Lindsay calls her. I just love how no one can shoot darts of hatred like Janet, and so certainly her character and the intense sibling rivalry definitely did develop around Janet.
And similarly with Paul; Paul was conceived a bit differently. He was always going to be this uber-nerd with a lot of very eccentric and esoteric hobbies but there’s something sort of very gentile and southern about Allan [McLeod] that has informed the way his character comes off. Same with the rappers.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.