No one else on TV reaches relationship milestones like the characters of You’re The Worst. When its central couple, narcissistic author Jimmy (Chris Geere) and equally narcissistic publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash), finally move in together, it’s only after Gretchen’s libido-driven disregard for electrical safety leads to an apartment fire. Gretchen’s best friend, Lindsay (Kether Donohue) spends most of season two estranged from her husband, Paul (Allen McLeod), but they’re reunited following an act of turkey-baster-assisted artificial insemination. PTSD-stricken veteran Edgar (Desmin Borges) meets the love of his life in an improv class. When the show returns to FXX for a third season on August 31, its characters continue to navigate personal unknowns in their own, personal ways, from Gretchen seeking treatment for her depression (the source of some of 2015’s funniest and most gutting TV) to Jimmy telling Gretchen “I love you” while he was blackout drunk. To discuss these and other You’re The Worst developments, The A.V. Club caught up with series creator Stephen Falk at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
AVC: The characters took some big steps in their relationships at the end of season two: Jimmy and Gretchen had their “I love you.” Edgar and Dorothy are moving in together, and Lindsay and Paul are reconciling. When you set that up in a season finale, what’s the conversation as you’re entering into a new season, saying “How do we address these next steps?”
Stephen Falk: First of all, it’s like, “Okay, so what have you done for the last few months? Oh, you’re getting divorced, oh that’s interesting. Wow. You really grew that beard? Good decision, idiot.” And then we go, “Wait, we did what at the end of last season? Oh fuck. Why’d we do that?”
I think it’s important for me to have our show feel as holistic as possible—in other words, feel like one continuing narrative that just happens to take breaks. A book you put down, and forget to pick up for three months, and then you’re like, “Oh!” This, we tried to make sure that we’re following through on everything that we bring up. They said “I love you,” and we wanted it to have repercussions. When we’re in the writer’s room, we go, “Okay, should this happen?” They moved in together, or they said “I love you,” or whatever they go through, what would these two specific people with very specific world views feel about that? Would they just let that go? Probably not. They would probably deal with it. Okay, well what’s a funny way of dealing with having said “I love you”? The second season, with moving in, we’re like, “Okay, what would happen when they move in?” Well, Jimmy wouldn’t cede any ground in his house, save for the trash bags in the corner, which he calls “Gretchen’s Corner.” His grand gesture being then that he buys her one little nightstand—not cleaning out half the closet, which she eventually makes him do. So we’re always trying to take that finale, and then seeing where it would go in the very specific You’re The Worst universe, and how they would deal with it.
I think that the finer that you can analyze those sort of things, the more comedy can be mined from it. And so, really delving into what do those words say, as we do in the first episode this season. It is very much fitting with how we do things. I think that the way that [Gretchen] ends up justifying it to him, or really getting him to say it back is by denying that it really means anything. She’s not lying, she’s not inaccurate by saying you can still walk away after saying “I love you.” But it’s probably not the best way to get someone to say it.
AVC: The “I love you” hurdle comes up so frequently in sitcom romances. Did any of the writers have a personal experience along those lines?
SF: Oh yeah. It’s never a mutual thing, it’s always one person says it. But yeah, in the writer’s room, we tell a lot of personal stories, and I do remember, yes, a lot of stories of saying it and getting a “thanks” back, or something horrible like that. All the writers have a lot of romantic trauma in our past, so there’s a lot to mine in that room.
AVC: Lindsay is now pregnant. Things are very tense with her and Paul.
SF: [Laughs.] You could say that.
AVC: And then Becca is also pregnant. You brought up in the show’s TCA panel that you worry for any baby that’s born into the world of You’re The Worst. Do you feel like you’ve made this world that should end with this current generation? That the current generation shouldn’t spawn?
SF: Gosh. Well, I think the way in which they conduct their lives, they shouldn’t. But I don’t think our show stands in for the whole generation. I just think that our show is inhabited by really selfish people, and I don’t think that being a parent allows for a whole lot of selfishness. I mean, it can, but inevitably, your life is less important than theirs, or at least your life is now only important in making sure theirs continues. Your needs are less important. You don’t even have time to poop, you have to bring the kid into the bathroom and have them roll around on the floor while you do. That’s not dignified or good for anybody. But yeah, no, none of these people should procreate. I can’t think of a single character who really should have a kid. Paul would probably be a very nurturing father.
AVC: In terms of watching these characters evolve over the arc of the series, does it excite you to potentially move them in that direction, where they could care for a child a little bit more than they could care for themselves?
SF: I would be interesting in exploring that at the right time. I would be interested in seeing what that does to the relationship. But kids are tough. Not only production-wise—they’re just tough. It’s kind of such a sitcom trope to have parents, and “Oh, what do we do with these children?” I would have to make sure it was the exact right time to get as much story juice out of it. We’re just vampires for story, really. So if anything seems like it’s going to be something that we can sustain for a whole season—or at least really dig into, and that excited us—we’ll definitely do it. So that may happen down the line, sure.
AVC: What’s it been like to balance the material about the characters’ mental health and the more outwardly comedic aspects of You’re The Worst? How is making those stories in season three different than it was in season one?
SF: I feel more liberated to take risks creatively. I feel like any people we pissed off by going to darker places—probably they were very small in number, and probably, ultimately, not my target audience. I think the ones that we gained from doing that far outweighed that. I’m really lucky to have such a good cast and a supportive network
Really where that balances lies is in the eyes of the viewer, whether I’m doing it correctly or not. But at the end of the day, the only gauge is my internal barometer. Certainly, the network can be. I mean, my writers are lovely and really good, but ultimately I’m their boss and their source of employment. So they tend not to tell me when they think I’m doing a bad job. So I think the network is probably more reliable, if they were ever to say, “I’m not sure this is going to work,” or “maybe do this later,” which they haven’t done, they’ve just expressed concern. So really, it comes down to my internal barometer for what I want, what I think the show needs. I have to just trust that I’m the author of the story, and the chapter that I want to tell, I just put it through my own gauge and see if it comes out feeling right. And it’s really a feeling. The finale that you saw, I re-wrote three times, because it wasn’t quite feeling right. Until it did. It’s an elusive, un-quantitative thing.
AVC: That notion of “fixing” depression returns this season. Gretchen was very adamant in season two that depression can’t be fixed. What do you think she wants to get out of therapy, and of medication?
SF: I think she wants to get out of therapy. I don’t think she wants to be there. She made a pledge to Jimmy last season that for the first time ever she was going to address it, which was a big thing for her, I think. Way bigger than “I love you.” Very selfless for a selfish person to do, in a way. We’ll see her with her therapist really struggle to try to plumb the depth of a psyche and a psychology that hasn’t been plumbed before. She’s never really thought about it that much, because she’s so id-oriented. I think Gretchen lives above the head, or I guess below the head—it’s all body and appetites. So for her to start to investigate the source of any of her inner turmoil, I think is a big step in and of itself for her. I think beyond that, she just wants to fulfill her pledge to Jimmy. It’s like a smoker who has a really bad cough. They’re like, “This is terrible, I’m not going to smoke anymore.” The minute they feel fine, they’re smoking again. They forget. So I think when she’s not in the throws of it, she’s like, great, I’m fine, never mind, don’t have to see anyone. For her, it’s really about the promise she made, I think.
AVC: And at the same time, it seems like Edgar’s about to have his own sort of backslide. What’s it like dealing with those story lines simultaneously? Do Edgar and Gretchen even find a common ground?
SF: I think if Edgar ever said that to her, she’s say, “Pfft! What! You’re really fucked up. I’m nothing like you. Where’s breakfast?” I don’t think they get to that place, at least not yet. I think for him, it is very different, it is very physical. Often, it’s actual brain damage that happens in combat situations. Whether it’s sonic things from explosions, or if it is purely just psychological. It has a very different footprint. So while they inhabit similar territory, they’re quite different. We’re certainly dealing with that, but we’re more interested, I think, in the idea of how we ignore and don’t treat our veterans and how the government doesn’t fund treatment for them in the right way. But then, at the end of the day, it’s just about a person trying to fix themselves, and try to find peace, and try to stand up for himself. Even if he wasn’t a veteran, he’d still be kind of a doormat, and kind of not someone who feels really deserving of help. So that’s the bigger story for me than actual mental illness.