I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
YOU’RE THE WORST‘s second season kicks off tonight (read our thoughts here), and we had the chance to speak with creator Stephen Falk about his latest season, timeless humor, and our thoughts on the cancellation of the COACH reboot.
Hi, Stephen. Thanks so much for your time today.
Stephen Falk: “Absolutely. If I seem off, I’m really bummed out about the COACH reboot being canceled.”
Aren’t we all?
Falk: “Yes, yes.”
A dark day in TV history.
Falk: “A dark day.”
So, my favorite scene of this season so far, comically speaking, is when Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) go to the mall together.
Stephen Falk: “Ah, yes.”
Yes. I love that episode and how they’re able to just goof around about who is whose boyfriend or girlfriend. I just really liked it. But I’ve always appreciated your comedic tone breaks, like there will be these very subtle moments and then you’ll throw in something situational like that. And it has a timeless quality to it. What do you think is the difference between this kind of timeless comedy and the kind of comedy that just doesn’t age well?
Falk: “Gosh, that’s a very nice compliment and a difficult question to answer. I’m keenly aware of comic pace changing and things not feeling fresh 30 years later, as opposed to other things that do. I don’t know what that is. I think, again, just trying to be more aware of the way humans interact rather than how the cliché language, tone, and rhythm of the day is. That kind of is a completely bullsh*t answer. I’m really trying to formulate an answer to the question. But I don’t honestly know.
I think, just in terms of our comedic tone being able to be a little wide, it’s something that I’ve been playing with without trying to for years and failing miserably, writing a lot of really bad comedic movies that just tonally didn’t work. And for some reason this is a nice concoction and we’ve managed to achieve a good balance where the show’s allowed to go to very silly places and really pop culture references and anything that we throw at it, but also then have really dramatic elements.
I’m just a big fan of the silly and so I can never get rid of that, which is why I don’t think I’d ever be able to write HANNIBAL, unless Hannibal’s very silly. I don’t watch it. But, yes, it’s a weird concoction. It’s really kind of a feel and very hard to put into words.”
What do you think is the future of comedy? The things that people used to find funny, don’t really find funny today. It’s constantly evolving. The same thing with the horror genre, too: stuff that scares people today is not what scared people a decade ago.
Falk: “That’s true. We can talk about the rhythm of three camera comedy, or multi-cam comedy, which just feels a little out of fashion right now, mixed with the problem of a laugh recording. Yes, and tastes just change. But it’s weird, people say, oh, the younger generation isn’t used to multi-cam, but a lot of children’s programming or tween programming is multi-cam.
So, I think that’s too simplistic an answer. And obviously the biggest comedy on TV, THE BIG BANG THEORY is a multi-cam, which just generally has a set-up punch line structure. That’s how it’s created. And I come from the theater. I don’t think that live audiences hurt comedy at all. I just think it’s a tasting.
We’ve gone through a big era of mockumentary style, with THE OFFICE and MODERN FAMILY, and PARKS AND REC, and there are a lot of other examples of those. We’re still in the comedy of awkwardness that I think Larry Sanders brought to the forefront and then again THE OFFICE and EXTRAS, and certain shows like that really made hip and part of the comedic lexicon. But I think it’s always changing. Where it’s going to go, if I knew I would be a billionaire in the future. And maybe I will be. I don’t know.
But, yes, I’m happy to see. But I think it’s difficult to keep up with the tastes to worry too much about that. But then again NBC, not to keep kicking a peacock when it’s down, but to pick up COACH and then say as a reason why you’re not going to go forward with it that it felt old-fashioned, even though it has the same creator. To cancel a remake of a 25-year-old show and cite the fact that it feels old-fashioned as a reason is mind-boggling to me.”
Between YOU’RE THE WORST and stuff like TRAINWRECK there seems to be a trend towards romantic comedy with either, you could say, unlikeable, or you could say realistic characters that we’re meant to root for. How you strike that balance?
Falk: “I think you’ve got to be very aware of the tightrope you’re on, while at the same time being free to let the characters say whatever they want to without fear of censoring yourself. I think that we’re hopefully beginning to exit a long, dark period of time where characters, according to the executives who pay for the shows, have to be ‘likeable,’ which I think is a complete fallacy and a misunderstanding of not only comedy but of human behavior and the reality of humanity.
I think that hopefully American television is entering a period where we allow our characters to be actually flawed and not just TV flawed, because we all are. And all that can mean is we’re bringing our television writing a little closer to reality of human behavior and of human beings in general as being dark, and damaged, and f**ked up, and having bad motivations, and terrible instincts, and making mistakes, and still yearning for connection.
The danger in all of that is you’re trying to write a character that ‘feels edgy’ and I think, and I’ve read a lot of those kind of scripts, particularly a lot of submissions for, once I did the pilot for my writing staff, agents would then go, ‘Oh, this is a good sample because it’s full of d**kheads. Man, they’re edgy d**kheads.’ And that’s not at all what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to create characters who are flawed, and certainly they’re more flawed than a lot, but they represent the dark parts in all of us that still yearn for love and connection.”
Are there any other shows right now on television that are doing this in a way you admire?
Falk: “I haven’t watched DIFFICULT PEOPLE, but I hear that that has elements of it. I just finished CATASTROPHE. I know Rob Delaney, and I like him a lot. And I think they did a really nice job. Sharon Horgan’s great in creating these flawed characters. I can’t think of any other offhand. BOJACK HORSEMAN, I’m a big fan of that. I know Raphael, and I think what he’s doing is really extraordinary in terms of taking flawed characters, which could just be a surface show about a washed up actor, and who is in Hollywood vain and silly, and the characters question their motivation a lot, they question their ‘Why am I in this bad position? Why do I keep doing this to myself?’ And that’s something that a lot of shows don’t do, have the characters examine their own damage. And I think that’s pretty extraordinary, particularly in an animated show.”
And how about putting together your writers’ room for YOU’RE THE WORST, what were the different personalities and voices that you mixed together?
Falk: “A really goofy UCB girl from New York. A woman who was a playwright but also came from COMEDY BANG BANG, so I knew had a lot of indie comedy cred, but could also craft a play, could really be structured in dialogue. And then I had three writing slots, so I have three writers, but one is a team, so I actually have two. So, the team is two guys who are just balls out funny, and who craft crazy dialogue and who are really joke specialists. And more importantly, all really nice people, so I have two girls and two guys. And, yes, it’s a good balance and a great room for me.”
YOU’RE THE WORST‘s new season premiere is tonight at 10:30 p.m. E/P only of FXX, followed by an encore presentation at 11:30 p.m. E/P.