How the Creator of You’re the Worst Went From Recapping TV to Making It

Stephen Falk Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

You've probably already heard about FX's You're the Worst: the racy rom-com about two assholes who get together after a wedding and find out that they actually like each other. Is this the beginning of TV's rom-com renaissance? The show's creator Stephen Falk isn't completely sure, but with a past in recapping reality shows like Nick and Jessica: Newlyweds, he's definitely a bona-fide expert in true romance. Before tonight's season finale, Vulture spoke with Falk about the power of will-they-won't-they, one-night stands, and how one goes from recapping Temptation Island to creating one.

People really seem to like your show!
It’s been gratifying and odd and fun. I have almost no complaints, which is strange because I always have complaints.

It's funny because you have no complaints, but your show is based on everyone else’s complaints. But maybe the characters are so unlikable that they’re actually likable?
I think there’s sort of a long tradition of kind of the angry young man. And so I think that if you always keep that in mind when you’re writing a character like that, and I think there’s a lot of examples that I could name but I don’t want to get in trouble, of shows that have kinds of characters who come across as — the showrunner obviously thinks they’re really cool and edgy. And the characters are speaking for his voice or her voice, but there’s not really an acknowledgement that they’re kind of ridiculous in their directionless rage and annoyance. I think I always try to keep that in mind when the characters do anything that is “unlikable.”

Yeah, that's a big word when talking about characters these days.
At the same time, I don’t think of my characters as bad people or unlikable or the worst. I just acknowledge that they’re standing in for the worst parts of all of us. People who are behaving badly are 10,000 times more fun to write than people who [behave well]. But at the same time, in a greater sense, my goal is to present these two sort of problematic people who really just stand in for the fact that even the worst in all of us is deserving of love. Even the most damaged, the most self-sabotaging, the most angry, mistrusting — still, at the end of the day, I think most people are good people and deserve to have someone to share their life with.

This show comes right before a bit of a resurgence of TV rom-coms. You have A to Z, Manhattan Love Story, Married, Really (the Amazon pilot). Even Selfie is kind of rom-com-y. Do you see yourself as part of this?
Well, numerous things could be at work in terms of the cycle of television. Just generally where things are cyclical, I think I just happened to be on that wave ... Certainly in movies as well. I think rom-coms have been sort of stale and dying because they’ve been hitting the same old Katherine Heigl formula over and over. And I think that we’ve hit the down part of the roller coaster, and it's started to climb back up where it’s the most universal subject that you can think of. We all, in our various twisted and weird ways, are sort of searching for love or companionship. And I think that people got kind of sick of the staleness of them. So hopefully this is a time when we’re going to do it a little differently. Now, I can’t say, having seen some of those pilots already, that maybe we were all on the same page in doing it differently!

And the The Mindy Project does a great job of reminding us of when we all loved them so much.
Yeah, I think also
How I Met Your Mother going off the air probably had a lot to do with this cycle of people thinking, You know, that show, it was the little train that would not quit. And I think growing near the end, there was this romantic story at the heart of it that this guy told his kid for eight fucking years.

And then she died. The worst rom-com of all time.
It seems like we’re all trying to do something maybe a little different. I certainly like mine the most of all of them. I think our show is a little — I hate the word hip — but maybe a little more daring.

What’s your favorite rom-com?
I really like
The Sure Thing. I think that’s a good one, with John Cusack. I like a good road trip. When Harry Met Sally is always great. One of my favorites, not even a guilty pleasure, was written by Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley: Joe Versus the Volcano.

Something that surprised me about the show was how Jimmy and Gretchen got together so quickly. Usually that will-they-won’t-they thing is dragged out.
I was schooled in the Jenji Kohan world — on
Weeds and Orange Is the New Black — and one of her mantras is that there’s always more road. We were trained not to hold story back. Use it, and then see where that takes the characters. Very consciously, the whole show is not a meta-comment, but it is sort of playing on the rom-com tropes. You have these clichés of romantic comedies, and they exist for a reason, and it’s hard not to have them. But will-they-won’t-they is a trope that I wanted to expunge right away and then see what you’re left with.

And it ends up that it’s still will-they-won’t-they even though they’ve already had sex.
There’s so much more to human relationships than are we going to put our genitals together? For me, that’s fundamentally uninteresting. What’s interesting is: What are we going to do with our humanity? What are we going to do with our souls? Rather than what are we going to do with our dicks.

You were a TV recapper for Television Without Pity. I want to know what you recapped.
Mostly reality, because I started out as a movie writer but I was transitioning to television at the same time, so I thought it was prudent not to be chained to scripted shows. I did
Britney and Kevin: Chaotic.

No wonder you’re writing about messed-up relationships! You have a whole wealth of knowledge about one of the most fascinating romances of our time.
I still like K-Fed’s “Lose Control.” I stand by that as a good pop song. I did a lot of seasons of
The Real World. I did a show called Temptation Island. It was terrible. I did Chains of Love, which was another terrible dating reality show. I did The Osbournes, which was a lot of fun. It was when the Osbournes were huge. They were massive.

That was the first Kardashians. Now we have a million seasons of Kardashians thanks to The Osbournes.
Oh, I did
Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, and one of the best things that came out of that, because reality television at that point was getting really big, is that I made a conjecture after watching episode after episode that Jessica Simpson was illiterate. I guess her dad left her a note and she immediately handed it to Nick to read and when I looked back on all the episodes I was like, Oh my God, she never reads anything herself. The Simpson camp was actually forced to make a statement rebutting that. It was ridiculous.

So that’s your greatest accomplishment, is what you’re saying.
Oh, yeah, basically. Forcing Jessica Simpson to prove that she can read. I still actually don’t think she has proven it definitively.