“You’re the Worst” took a risky path in its second season. In addition to depicting the adventures of four Los Angeles residents afflicted by differing degrees of hilarious self-absorption, the FXX comedy also delved into the increasingly serious depression of Gretchen (Aya Cash). Somehow “You’re the Worst,” which was always secretly one of TV’s most empathic shows, managed to be true to many people’s experience of depression and yet retain its irreverence, charm and energy.
Creator Stephen Falk talked about why he went down that road as a storyteller in the first part of an interview with Variety. Here, he talks about the finale of the second season of the comedy (which made my Top 20 of 2015 list), about the show’s deeper themes and about what may be ahead for Gretchen, Jimmy (Chris Geere), Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Lindsay (Kether Donohue).
I never thought of your show as a public-service announcement, but it was interesting that you showed Gretchen self-medicating with Adderall and cocaine and alcohol, and no one suggests to her that she get help or see a professional. There are no conversations touching on those subjects until Jimmy brings up medication in the finale.
We certainly thought it would make sense for Gretchen to have depression in her life. We wanted that to be something she’s familiar with, and she has found ways to stave it off. Non-traditional ways, whether it’s self-distracting or sex or drugs or alcohol or just crying it out in her car alone. It’s all hidden. She’s ashamed of it. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone about it. She just wants to wear the same Hoobastank T-shirt every day and eat only Cap’n Crunch until it goes away.
Because she’s the good girl. If she had told her parents, her country club parents, that she had depression and she wanted to go see a doctor, that would have been revealing that she’s bad, and then who knows what else would have been revealed? She can’t have that. It’s very much in line for her character to not seek traditional help, and early learned behavior often keeps going, right? We wake up and we’re in our thirties and we’re like, “Wait, I’m still using the same coping mechanisms that I developed when I was 15 because I had to.”
So it was in line with the character, and we also got a good joke out of it in the finale, when Jimmy says, “So you should probably change your medication then.” Not only is it funny that she would not do that and she put Jimmy through all of this, but it makes complete sense. And it thematically that allowed us to come full circle with the character this season.
The theme for the entire season and certainly for her character is something that was said in by Paul (Allan McLeod) in the season premiere — the definition of love is putting the other one’s needs in front of your own. She makes a decision in the last scene of the finale — she says she’s going to see [a professional] because it used to be only about her, and now it’s not. By doing that, she’s really making a profound statement, even more than saying, “I love you,” which is very important in that scene also. But she’s saying, “I acknowledge that our lives are tied now in a very real way, and not only do I acknowledge that, I’m willing as a narcissist and a ‘bad person’ to make an adjustment.”
It’s almost more important than deciding to move in or any other big step they could take. It’s personal and emotional and probably scary, and we may see the ramifications of that next season.
A similar decision was made by Jimmy when he doesn’t go off to the cabin with the hot bartender. I honestly felt like that situation could have gone either way.
Yeah. All the characters do kind of prove Paul’s theory. By the end of the season, they all do something for their partner, for their love interest. Jimmy easily could have [believed] this person saying, “Go away, go away. It’s not a test.” Gretchen is not testing him to see if she’s going to be proven right — she’s really saying, “Go.” All he did was very simple. He built a metaphorical tent around her to protect her from whatever. He stayed. That’s what she says [in the final scene of Episode 12] — he stayed. She said in eight different scenes, “Go, go away, leave,” but he didn’t. He didn’t sleep with the hot skier, but more importantly, he didn’t leave her side, and he stopped trying to fix her.
That’s where so many rom-coms fail to feel like real life — with the idea that once you get together, then boom, you’re happy. This is sort of an extreme version, but it stands in for any number of things, any number of skeletons, any number of real issues, illness, personality defects, debts, family s—t. All those things can complicate a relationship, and Gretchen and Jimmy are immediately saddled with that.
That’s the real test. The test is not, “Can we handle the idea of having a commitment?” That’s easy. That’s child’s play. [After that commitment,] the real work happens, and certainly it’s harder to make that interesting or fun to watch, but I think it’s more representative of real life. If you’re an intelligent watcher, it’s more satisfying, ultimately. It is a testament to them that they end the season actually maybe stronger and closer. That’s kind of a nice thing to leave people with.
Do you have ideas about where to go in season three, or is it a blank slate for you at this point?
I have ideas. I think I have a good internal barometer for the expectations that we’ve set, and for what would feel redundant or feel like we were trying too hard or attempting to recreate something or to puff ourselves up. You know, that sequel-itis thing. I feel good that we avoided the sophomore slump. No offense to Nicky Pizza [Nic Pizzolatto], but we didn’t “‘True Detective’ season two” it. We hopefully “Fargoed” it.
When you’re doing a storyline like this, you don’t get to paint with certain colors as much. I’m feeling some of that, but at the same time, I think we’ll certainly challenge ourselves and the viewers. But I can’t imagine we would try to up our game in the same way.
This is a storyline that ate up a lot of emotional energy and story space. Was it a concern to keep alive the Edgar and Lindsay storylines, as well as this universe of characters you’ve built up?
Yeah, it’s always challenging to service a lot of characters. [I worked on] “Orange Is the New Black,” where you’re juggling 40 to 70 characters, so I certainly have dealt with the extreme example of that. This is less challenging but certainly yes, we are blessed with a lot of riches, which is a curse in some ways, because I want to service all of our characters. I want to service Vernon and Becca and the rappers and Paul, let alone Lindsay and Edgar. But I’m really very satisfied with what we did with Lindsay and Edgar, and I was very happy to let Edgar have a little happiness this season.
We made a very concerted effort to not just [remind viewers] he’s a veteran. We showed him expanding his interests, and we had a lot of fun with the improv stuff. Collette Wolf [who plays Edgar’s love interest, Dorothy] is so good and they’re so damn cute together. With Edgar, I wanted to reward the character, because people love him so much. Leaving him happy at the end of this season made me very happy, and it almost didn’t happen. We were going to leave him very sad, but I changed my mind at the very last moment.
I think it’s pretty clear that Lindsay doesn’t love Edgar, she’s just looking for someone more stable and responsible than she is. And I can’t quite believe Paul broke up with Amy. They were so perfect for each other.
Yeah. Paul found the perfect woman this season and out of being a moral guy, he followed his own dictum for what love means, and he put Lindsay’s needs — or so he thought — in front of his own, and dumped Amy. It’s a tragic tale still unfolding, but yeah, I don’t know if Lindsay’s making a great decision there.
Couldn’t Paul stay with Amy but support Lindsay and help her out? Does he not view that as being sufficiently loving or moral?
Yeah, but I think he still loves Lindsay. Even though, in a very, very brave decision at the end of last season, he left her, she is hot and fun and probably represents all the girls he ever wanted in high school. There’s a part of him where she represents the prom queen that he [wanted].
Becca and Vernon and the couple from “LCD Soundsystem” — they seem to anchor these ideas that run through the show. It’s the idea of settling for less than you wanted, trying to make something work — and the question of, when are you not just compromising but forcing something to work?
It also speaks to the fact that a lot of people make big decisions, particularly in life mates, from the wrong place. [The motivations for decisions come from] old wounds, or from the idea of something. Becca (Janet Varney) makes maybe five percent of her decisions [based on] what would piss off Lindsay. Becca married a doctor who turns out to be a really messed-up human being, and she kind of got what she deserved. But we’re having a lot of fun revealing that Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) is more complicated and needy and weird than he was on the surface. That’s always my goal — if we’re spending any time with a character, let’s deepen them and let’s dimensionalize them.
As I think about the season, I keep going back to Lexi’s speech from episode nine [“LCD Soundsystem”], where she talks about how trying to be cool is ultimately a pose that keeps you from real life. It’s more false than just admitting that you want things and that you’re just a scared human being. I’m really misremembering the speech, but it was about the tension between the image you want to give off versus the ultimate cost of keeping up that image.
Yeah, absolutely. In many, many ways, that episode was me writing myself. Certainly I find a lot of myself in Jimmy, in my attitudes. Not with highfalutin’ ideas about writing, because I don’t have those. I’m teasing other writers when I make Jimmy talk about how writing is such a noble thing.
But in that [episode,] I was essentially writing a character very much like myself. I have a Vespa. I just had a child. I live in that neighborhood, and yeah, I think a lot about getting older and losing your edge and losing your coolness, if I ever had any coolness. I think about what that means. Does it matter and why doesn’t it matter? I’m not conflicted about it like [Justin Kirk’s character] Rob is, but I’m aware of the potential conflicts.
It’s a stealth show about getting older and growing up. And it’s a stealth show about that because I think that sounds like a really sad, boring topic. As a kid, I never watched “thirtysomething” because I thought that sounded sad and boring and what old people were worried about. So don’t tell anybody, but yes, it’s a main concern of the show and the characters. It’s both incredibly stupid and silly and, as Lexi says, counterintuitive to organize your life around that, but it’s certainly very, very understandable and universal. It is very scary, you know, making these big life decisions
That kind of brings the conversation full circle to what I first asked you about, which is — popularity all depends on how you define it. In terms of people writing about the show and caring for the show deeply, that seems to have increased. I doubt the viewers are snorting coke and going to bars all night, but there are a lot of people who can identify with those questions — Am I settling? Did I make the right decisions in my life?
I hope so. We’re trying to talk about deeper things like that, but we’re also always trying to be entertaining and silly. I have a huge appetite for dumb humor, just huge. We never want to be the show that gathers dust on your DVR.