Before creating Married, currently in its second season on FX, Andrew Gurland worked in nonfiction, co-directing the controversial Sundance-winning documentary Frat House. When it was alleged that some of the film’s footage had been staged for the camera, the directors’ reputations took a hit, but Gurland rebounded by drawing on his documentary experience for a string of features: found-footage films The Last Exorcism and The Virginity Hit and the mockumentary Mail Order Wife. Though it’s a straightforward single-camera comedy, Married continues this trend, with its protagonists, Russ (Nat Faxon) and Lina (Judy Greer) Bowman, taking their cues from the showrunner and his wife, Michelle—the latter of whom joined the show’s staff this season. At this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, The A.V. Club spoke with Gurland about translating his home life to the small screen, why Judy Greer isn’t an “underused” actress (despite what reviews of Jurassic World or Ant-Man might say), and the comedic ups and tragic downs in the lives of the people around the Bowmans—like the unexpected uncoupling of Jess (Jenny Slate) and Shep (Paul Reiser) at the center of tonight’s episode, “Guardians.”
The A.V. Club: How did Jenny Slate and Paul Reiser react when you told them that you wanted to break Jess and Shep up?
Andrew Gurland: Paul was surprised, but really pushed me to make it as honest as possible. I think I actually got really close, in the writing of that episode, because he was challenging me to be more honest, as someone who has the experience that he does, and [had] run his own show successfully for so long—but we have very different styles. So there was a real collaboration that was incredibly rewarding, but taxing at the time, because of the pressure that we were under when it was happening.
AVC: Is the closeness that you’ve felt with Paul reflected at all in the way that Shep and Russ get closer this season?
AG: Absolutely. It’s something that I’ve had happen to me. Most of my close friends, growing up, were women—and even after I got married, I still maintained a lot of those friendships. But as they get married, and as I get older, I’m making a lot of the transition to the husbands. I start as, “These are my girl friends,” but I find myself suddenly becoming friends with the husbands and liking that better. I used to hate the way, when you went out as couples, the men and the women would separate, but it’s suddenly happening to me now, too.
AVC: Season two: It’s a new challenge, right? You do the first season and it’s like “Well, we can do this now”—so how do you look at season two from there?
AG: Well, season one was a real challenge because we had to get up and running in six weeks, so I didn’t have a long time to write the season. I had to jam very quickly and we were still figuring out what it was. This year we had a little more time to pick the writers and develop chemistry with them. The actors know their characters more, we know what the show looks like and feels like.
AVC: When you’re picking writers, what are you looking for? What makes a good Married writer?
AG: I look for people who are married or have been married or are ostensibly married by being in long-term relationships. And I prefer people who have had children, because I don’t really believe you are married unless you have children. And people who only have one kid don’t really have kids. [Laughs.] And what I mean by that is you’re just two adults who hang out and do whatever you want whenever you feel like it. When you have children, that’s when your relationship really gets tested.
We did have one childless writer, and we had someone in the room—who started as a writer’s assistant, but ended up writing a script—who is single and childless. I broke my rules a little bit. But for the most part, if you haven’t suffered what I have, I ain’t interested. [Laughs.]
AVC: Now that the actors know their characters better, and you’ve got a better feel for everybody and what they can do, did you feel like you had more room to build out the individual lives of characters outside of Lina and Russ?
AG: Absolutely, absolutely. The show was really inspired by my own experiences. I think that one of the things I was doing in my own marriage was projecting some of my career and personal frustration onto my relationship. So my wife was getting the brunt of me not being happy professionally, but I didn’t really see that. I just had a show that I cared a lot about not get picked up, and instead of realizing that my problems were professional, I started counting how many times I was going to have sex before I die. And my wife was like “What are you talking about?” [Laughs.] “Stop this!”
And so this show is very satisfying to me, creatively. I was in a different place, so I had to think, “What do I draw from now?” And what I’m drawing from is the fact that I don’t see my family as much. I don’t see my wife and children. And when you are working, you’re validated in that way, but what new problems are created by that?
AVC: Judy Greer was in a lot of movies this summer-
AG: I tried to stop her, but she can’t. If you, right now, asked her to be in a movie on your iPhone, she would say “Yes.” She has no ability to say “No.”
AVC: And, arguably, Married is using her talents better than any of these movies.
AG: That is so infuriating. When I hear, “Judy Greer is so underused.” Because I’m like, “Well, watch the show. She’s not underused in the show.”
AVC: What have you been able to give her that some of these movie roles haven’t?
AG: Lines. [Laughs.] She has more lines. But no: She’s playing a character who is complicated—who has a complicated relationship with her husband, has a complicated relationship with her friends, has a complicated relationship with her children. All relationships are complicated. Sometimes they’re not complicated on TV because they’re not fleshed-out. But in real life, all intimate relationships are complicated.
AVC: You took AJ to the edge at the end of last season, and now he’s in recovery, he has this budding relationship with Sarah Burns’ character, Abby—As you were plotting this season out, how long did you want to keep AJ celibate?
AG: Let me start with this: Last year, AJ was in a downward spiral: drugs, alcohol, sex addiction. And a lot of my friends who have experienced that, it’s not like suddenly when they got sober they stopped being crazy. [Laughs.] So I wanted to show that it’s not that simple. Sometimes in a movie, somebody will be drinking too much, and then they collect all the bottles, they them put in an a box, they throw it outside, and they’re like, “All my problems are over!” Real life is not like that, so I wanted to show he’s still trying to fill that hole with other things.
As it relates to his relationship with Abby: I think they’re good for each other. Divorce is serious business. I know people like to say, “Oh, it was no big deal—we’re fine, everything’s fine.” But almost everyone I know who got divorced, a part of them is broken. A part of both these characters is broken, and that’s really what they bond about, even more than their sexual attraction or anything like that. They’re both single parents, who are dealing with “what do we do next?”
AVC: Married rides the line between drama and comedy—and sometimes tragedy. What is it like trying to find the comedy in a relationship like theirs?
AG: Getting to the tragedy-comedy part: I’m just someone who, my whole life, I’ve always found the most tragic things funny. I was always the guy laughing at the funeral. [Laughs.] Because when things are so intense, all you can do is laugh. There’s a fantasy you have when you’re younger, that when you’re an adult, you have it all figured out. Part of what this show explores is that you don’t ever have it all figured out.
AVC: In “Koreatown,” did John Hodgman learn the Korean karaoke song phonetically, or was that a skill set he came to the show with?
He actually posted a video of it on his Tumblr, where you can see how he learned it. Because there is a phonetic subtitle on the song. So I believe that’s how he learned it. But didn’t he master that?
The episodes are just so different from each other; they don’t have a specific formula where you’re like, “Oh, now this is going to happen, now this is going to happen.” And that was kind of the goal: To make 13 Sundance movies. Sundance will never let me back, so I have to do it on TV now. I made a movie that won Sundance many years ago—it was a documentary, and then there was a scandal about it.
AVC: In next week’s episode, Russ and Lina visit the college where they met, and it seems like it’s been in the works for a while, but there’s no mention of it in earlier episodes, and there’s no exposition explaining why they’re there. Is it freeing to work in that way?
AG: We’re always trying to erase the seams. We never want to show where we’re going, what we’re going to do. So when we start writing the episode, there is a lot of exposition, but then we’re like, “We don’t really need this, we don’t really need that.” We keep stripping it away. Sometimes we have to put some back in, because it doesn’t make sense without it, but we’re always trying to put in the minimal amount of explanation that we need to. I’m much more interested in visceral interactions than I am with people explaining what’s going on.
AVC: All right—I think that does it for my questions-
AG: C’mon! [Laughs.]
AVC: What do want to talk about? We could talk forever.
AG: What will I say? I have a really good relationship with FX. The first movie that I made, I made for HBO—they would never let me work there again.
AVC: This seems to be a pattern.
AG: The second movie I made, was for New Line—I insulted the head of the studio. Which, by the way, I always tell young filmmakers: Do not insult the head of the studio where you’re making a movie.
AVC: Sensible advice.
AG: Hindsight’s 20/20. FX was the third place that I worked. This is my third project with them. FX and my wife were the first place that I got repeat business. I did it to ’em once, and they were like, “Yeah, we’ll do it again.” [Laughs.] So I’m very proud of that, and I feel like it shows some real growth, in me, that now people are willing to do it again. And let me try different positions. [Laughs.]
AVC: And if you get to do it again for a third season, where do you see Married going?
AG: The question is “Do I see us having a third season?”
AVC: Do you see yourself having a third season, and what are your ideas for a third season?
AG: C’mon, man.
AVC: Or is that even in the talks with FX? When do you know?
AG: I know that Nat and Judy keep pressuring me—they really wanted season two to be in Costa Rica. They just want to go somewhere where we can party. They like to have fun. So there’s a lot of pressure for me from them to take it on the road. But I don’t know: I like being in L.A. [Laughs.]
AVC: You don’t want to be too far from the point of inspiration.
AG: Well, my wife works on the show. And that’s been really good for our relationship, because before we worked together, I saw her in the mornings and the evenings. And in the mornings, she was a general, trying to get everybody out of the door. It’s easy to respect a general, but it’s hard to love them. [Laughs.] And then in the evenings, she was a zombie, because she was getting the kids to bed, and just exhausted from all that. It’s also hard to love a zombie. [Laughs.] Now she comes to work, she’s in the room with us, we have lunch together, we go for walks—it’s really been good for our relationship.
AVC: How does the relationship at work compare to the one at home?
AG: Great. It’s just better. First of all: I’m in charge at work. At home, I just have to keep my head down and say, “Yes.” [Laughs.] I guess that’s the part I like about it.