The following contains spoilers from the series finale of You’re the Worst.
From trash juice and deeply unhealthy breakfasts to Sunday Fundays, stab wounds to sexy hijinks, celebrity cameos to random Los Angeles references: What started as a post-wedding hookup between two human wrecking balls in the first episode of FXX’s You’re the Worst has led to five seasons’ worth of dark, honest and funny conversations about relationships and dating.
The brute attitudes of the emotionally repressed Jimmy (Chris Geere) and ever-deflecting Gretchen (Aya Cash) and their friends/enablers—the neglected Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and the too-good-for-this-world Edgar (Desmin Borges)—are among the reasons why the series is on Paste’s list of best FX and FXX shows of all time. (Another? Its treatment of important topics infrequently seen on TV, such as clinical depression and PTSD among veterans.) It’s also why we hoisted a glass of home-brewed ale and hugged the nearest Best Week Ever alum as we said goodbye to the series. But, before we part for good, Paste checked in with You’re the Worst creator Stephen Falk to discuss casting the series (including himself in the finale), the detour into more serious subjects, creating fleshed-out secondary characters and the future of dark comedies in Trump’s America. [Editor’s note: The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Paste: Do you remember casting these four leads? I heard you speak on a panel at the Austin Film Festival a few years ago and you said then that the notes you write during audition scenes can be pretty brutal.
Stephen Falk: [Laughs] I’m expedient and non-judicious with my quick little words during auditions so I can remember exactly why I didn’t like them… I don’t remember exactly what I wrote [about these actors], but if I were to venture a guess it would be like, “Yes” with eight exclamation marks and “funny” or “alive,” or maybe for Kether it was like, “so weird, but I love it.” I fell in love with all of them. I knew Desmin from a previous show I did. I didn’t know Aya, but I knew her work. And I had no doubt about any of them from the very beginning. They were amazing and I had to fight for a couple of them, but there was no one else.
Paste: What do you mean you had to fight for them?
Falk: Aya was not accepted by FX at the beginning and they passed on her officially. I had to go back to [FX Networks and FX Productions chairman John] Landgraf and his team and say, “I think you guys are missing something. Let me re-tape her. I think I can convince you.”
Paste: That’s so interesting because she carries such a heavy load by the second season when you discuss Gretchen’s clinical depression. How much warning did you give the actors, especially Aya, about what was going to happen?
Falk: None. But, it’s like if you pack a symphony with amazing musicians, you don’t got to warn them that you’ll be playing a tough concerto this season. You just program it and know that you’re choosing something within their ability. With Aya, it very much would not have been written the way it was if I didn’t know what I had in her, and the whole cast, as actors. It was very much we were making this fun anti-rom com. I think the first season is tight and great, but I think the second season [showed that] these guys have a fifth gear that we [were] not using. That allowed us to have the freedom, which is such a gift in the writers’ room, to really let ourselves fly in terms of what story we decide to tell.
That was born out of that: The idea to tell the real origin story of a seemingly surface narcissist and dig into what made her like that. It was incredibly rewarding and great fun. I know that the actors were probably, at certain times, a little bit scared. But every actor wants to be tasked with really showing what they can do and to tackle things like Desmin with the PTSD stuff and Aya with the clinical depression. I think they were probably scared, but I think they would look at it as a chance to do more than just kind of make dick jokes and get semi-nude.
Paste: Edgar’s battle with PTSD is so poignant. Was it always the plan to address this topic?
Falk: Desmin’s character was conceived from the beginning, from my original pilot, as someone who had been through combat and had emerged not completely unscathed. A pet concern of mine, both in terms of charitable giving and just something that really touches me, was the plight of U.S. veterans. Even in the pilot, I wanted to use it not just as a character affect and as background and joke fodder for Jimmy to dismiss and abuse. But, it was something I wanted to get in and dive into in a real way.
Paste: For the finale, was it important to solidify everyone’s stories?
Falk: We wanted everyone’s story to feel like it came to an ending. Obviously, there’s going to be questions of what’s going to happen. But we never had any desire to have a Sopranos effect [where the final scene leaves you guessing].
Paste: How long ago did you know what the finale would be?
Falk: I knew how I wanted Gretchen and Jimmy to end a few seasons back and that is to find a different answer to the binary question of, “Are you going to get married?” But, exactly how the episode was going to play out? That was really just a function of finding out this would be our last season—and that was great of FX to give us that heads up so we could craft 13 episodes that led to the end point that we wanted—but it was also just a function of talking through it in the writers’ room.
We’re not writing Lost here. There’s not thousands of ways anything could go in a relationship. So much is pretty binary: “Will they/won’t they? Will they stay together? Will they not stay together? Will they have a baby? Will they not have a baby?” I think we were always limited by the simple nature of our story, but also liberated, because we could really dive into what would be an interesting way to tell a simple story.
Paste: Was it always intended to be five seasons?
Falk: No. It wasn’t. It was sort of a decision the network made after the fourth season. But, in this era of Peak TV, I think five seasons is kind of the max unless it’s an eminently refillable show or it’s a massive hit or it’s something that’s a murder-of-the-week show. It came as a little bit of a surprise, but I never thought we’d be It’s Always Sunny [another show on FXX, which is preparing for its 14th season—tying it with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet for the title of longest-running live-action American sitcom].
Paste: Do you think you’d do a movie in a few years like Deadwood or Veronica Mars?
Falk: I don’t know. It feels, to me, sort of a weird invention that after a TV show there will be a movie. But I love these actors to death. They are such fantastic human beings. We all really like each other and admire each other… and I would do anything with any of them. And we built out the world enough that I do think there are stories to be told. But, with this finale, I think that we show what their world looks like in three years and what it looks like at the end of this timeline. And, with the montage at the end of the finale, what happens in the ensuing three years. I don’t know. Never say never.
Paste: Was there anything that you wish you’d gotten to do?
Falk: I always thought that telling a season of parenting stories with these two assholes [Gretchen and Jimmy] would be fun, if difficult. Kids are a pain in the ass to shoot with, but I think we could have found creative ways to do it and to have a lot of fun. It is a rich question, which I’m in right now [as the parent of two daughters]: How do you make good people in the environment we’re in right now? How do you not lose yourself completely in being a parent? Or do you? If we had gone six seasons, I think we would have gone there. But, as it is, this was a much better ending.
[I]n the general sense, there were a lot of little stories that you have on the writers’ room board and every season you come back and put it back up. And it never quite makes it. I really wanted to tell a day in the life of the rapper guys [Sam, played by Brandon Mychal Smith; Shitstain, played by Darrell Britt-Gibson; and Honey Nutz, played first by Allen Maldonado and then by Brandon Black. They are publicist Gretchen’s most high-profile clients]. It would be one of the special episodes that we really like to do [like “LCD Soundsystem” in Season Two or “The Intransigence of Love” in Season Five] where we change the format of the show and the feel of the show.
Paste: The last few lines of the finale, where Gretchen tells Jimmy that there’s “a possibility that someday I might leave my phone and keys at home and step in front of a train” are so honest. How many times did you rewrite them, if at all?
Falk: We’re always trying to be cognizant of the fact that, when you suffer from something like Gretchen does, it never really goes away. In the spirit of their entire relationship—they meet, announce they’re bad people, and still hook up anyway—there’s this tacit agreement with them, which I think is pretty beautiful, that they get all the bullshit on the table beforehand and then they still make the decision to be together anyway. This, to me, is just the final step. We’ve had this moment where we’ve decided, “No, we’re not getting married, but we’re going to stay together and decide every day,” instead of just declaring it and hoping for the best with a wedding ceremony and—to them—false promises.
Really, it’s her last moment of saying, “Do you take me?” Just like a wedding, it’s “Do you take this woman in sickness and in health?” He is scared for a moment and there’s a pause, but he says, in a very Jimmy way, “I’ll move on really quickly.” And they’re OK. She’s told him that final dirty secret and he says I still want to be with you, today. And then they can go onto gluttonously eat their breakfast for dinner.
For me, that was a treacle cutter. You had a perfect rom-com moment and dirtying it up and making it more believably true. Things are complicated and people are messy and there are no happy endings. But, for them, they’re still going to be together even knowing that. To me, that’s even more beautiful than [saying] “I do.”
Paste: There is a break-up and, later, a reconciliation, between Edgar and Jimmy. Edgar tells Jimmy he had to cut him off in order to survive. Talk about the importance of that.
Falk: We went through the calculus of Jimmy and Gretchen and “Are they going to get married? Are they not going to get married?” and realized it’s not really a sustainable or interesting enough mystery. It’s interesting enough that we had this three-years-later flash-forward runner to create that mystery. But once we decided that the break-up that needed to happen is Jimmy and Edgar, that allowed us to [use] those misleads and misdirects. It was really exciting for me. I remember being really jazzed about it all leading up to a break-up, yes, but not about our central relationship…
To me, I’ve always been uneasy about the inherent evil [of] having sidekicks in a rom-com. I mean, going back all the way to Shakespeare, that’s how it tends to work. So, pretty early on, we made [Edgar and Lindsay] self-aware. There’s an episode in the first season [called “Equally Dead Inside”] where they realize they’re sidekicks and reject that because no one is a sidekick.
For me, it was a continuation of that and a final reconciliation [of the idea] that anyone is just in someone’s orbit. In order for him to get out of Jimmy’s orbit, which Edgar had been trying to do for five seasons now, he had to hurt him in a way that was going to make Jimmy say, “Go away—like, really go away.” I don’t think he realized that at the moment. I thought he really was actively thinking that he needed to stop this wedding because they were just going to hurt each other and destroy each other eventually. But, I think, subconsciously he was just doing it to get Jimmy to let him go.
Paste: Lindsay ends up back with Paul (Allan McLeod) after stabbing him, having an abortion and, finally, leaving him and going out on her own.
Falk: Yeah! Who’s to say if they’re good for each other, but they’re certainly not good for anyone else. I think they’ve been through so much and, at the heart of it, it’s an imbalanced relationship. But, for some reason, they’re weird enough in ways that compliment each other.
Who’s to say if this second time is going to last? But Lindsay has been searching and grasping at straws for a few seasons now. And, I think, probably driven by seeing her best friend [almost] get married, she really was in a bad place, swinging more wildly and hooking up with her boss. This was a safe and good place to come back to and gave her an instant family.
Paste: But Lindsay also used that time without Paul to figure out her life and get a career going. She becomes a publicist this season.
Falk: Yeah, she found that she was actually capable of some shit. As Gretchen makes her see, she’s a really good asker, and that’s what publicity is about: asking people for stuff. She got her own place and got a job, at least for a while, and I think she’s matured a bit. In not as a dramatic way as Edgar, she’s able to stand on her own.
Paste: You also cast yourself and one of your daughters in the wedding scene at the end.
Falk: My daughter was supposed to play their daughter, but she didn’t want to. So we had a professional on hand to take over. But I did want her in there. So we all jumped in there and did some dancing. It’s a little weird, but it’s fun. Also, my other daughter is playing their daughter in the montage pieces, like in the shower. But she’s a little baby.
Paste: People, myself included, have often described You’re the Worst as a rom-com for people who hate rom-coms. Are you OK with that?
Falk: I think that’s fine. But I suspect it’s not that people hate rom-coms. It’s that people hate what rom-coms have become and hate the bad version of rom-coms. Obviously, this is my sensibility [because] it’s my show, but I also like big, dumb gooey rom-coms. I have no problem with that. It’s just that they had gotten a little stale. I think that we’re seeing a slow, tenuous rebirth. And I think that’s fantastic.
Paste: This show also premiered in a very different political and social era. How do you think dark comedies can evolve now, in 2019?
Falk: I think in the darkest times comes some of the greatest art and best work. Things might swing even more hopeful as a response to what’s happening right now. I don’t know if there’s a massive amount of appetite for the kind of cynical darkness because it’s in front of us in the papers and on Twitter every single day. I don’t know if I have the same kind of stomach for assholes, because they’re kind of in power right now. And I think that’s sort of why the show, over the years, didn’t soften up, but we certainly showed the human side of Jimmy and Gretchen. And, I hope, deepened them to a point where—not that they weren’t selfish assholes, but they weren’t only that.
Read Paste’s complete coverage of You’re the Worst here.