In the third season of FXX’s surreal romantic comedy, Man Seeking Woman, show creator Simon Rich decided to settle down and explore the complexities of a long-term relationship. MSW protagonist Josh (Jay Baruchel) finally meets his match in Lucy (Katie Findlay) and together they grapple with fidelity, ranch dressing, meeting the parents, sex-addict forest creatures, and a child who has a sixth sense for failure. Tune in for the season finale, “Blood,” airing tonight at 10:30pm ET to see what happens when Josh and Lucy get married. Simon Rich took some time to talk about the making of MSW season 3, his former writing life on Saturday Night Live, and his fear of yaks.
Why did you decide to focus on the domestic elements of a romantic relationship this season?
It felt like a more ambitious place to take the show. I think in our first two seasons we spent most of our time focusing on issues like workplace crushes and late night texting and we wanted to see if we could push ourselves to dig a little deeper and tackle issues like moving in together and falling in love. We knew if we were going to portray a relationship with any kind of authenticity, we’d have to come at it from both characters’ perspectives. So it was an exciting challenge to introduce a new co-protagonist and write half the episodes from her point of view.
Were there any particularly fun ideas that were explored in the writer’s room but didn’t make the show?
So many. There’s always the temptation to digress, and people are always throwing out ideas that don’t quite fit the narrative. It’s tough to throw them away because they make us laugh so hard, but it is a narrative show and we need to make sure that story is king. One of my favorite ones was in season two. We had a cold open where Josh was trying to take the perfect picture for his online dating profile, and his sister Liz and friend Mike were helping him take it. And no matter how he posed, in every single picture he ended up looking like a vomiting gremlin. And his friends would just say, ‘Hey that’s a good one,’ or ‘That’s just how you look in pictures.’ That was a really fun scene, and really relatable because everyone hates how they look in pictures. We even built the gremlin. It got pretty far along, but it just didn’t advance the story in any way so we didn’t end up filming it. No matter how hard we tried to shoehorn it into the narrative, it just didn’t fit. The show is strongest when we lead with narrative and character.
I feel like you kind of got that joke in there this season when Josh decides to make Lucy a painting of fruit, but keeps painting himself pleasuring animals instead.
Absolutely. I think the DNA of that premise definitely comes from that failed season two premise.
You must have an amazing art direction team, with all the puppets featured on the show, like in episode 4 when Lucy escapes into Lucyland.
We do. There’s a guy named Paul Jones who is a genius. He is a Toronto-based creature manufacturer and he’s been with us since the very beginning. He’s an enormous part of the show. He’s a huge creative ingredient and deserves a ton of credit for us to be able to pull off these premises. He’s worked on a bunch of great horror films, he worked on the original Hellraiser. He’s really gifted and we are lucky to have him.
There were many outlandish dramatic moments this season with explosions and special effects. Were you ever worried on set?
There were lots of moments when I was afraid. The yak, for example, in episode eight. He was very well behaved, but he was also very large and definitely unaware that he was on a television show, so that was a little anxiety provoking. But Mark McKinney was fearless and in blocking he volunteered to sit next to the yak. So if anything went wrong he would be the first to be stampeded. We are grateful to him for his bravery. And yeah, the stuntmen on our show are really fearless. We have a really great stunt coordinator named Jean Frenette. He and his team do a really good job. Because you know, we obviously have a lot of violence on our show. Someone is pretty much being shot at or tackled pretty much every single week. They’re pros at making it all done safely. I thought the stand-out stunt this year was Eric Andre’s stunt double dropping off the bridge into that toxic waste. It’s always thrilling when we get to pull off those kinds of pieces. It’s an ambitious show for sure.
What was your favorite episode to work on this season?
Probably episode 7 which was written by Stefani Robinson and directed by Ryan Case. She’s a brilliant director. It was really an exciting episode to work on because I thought it was a great chance for us to do an episode when both characters were at fault. Jay did a great job portraying Josh as a total coward afraid to blow his proposal, and Katie was great at portraying Lucy as someone with deep insecurity. It was really fun to see them both make those mistakes on screen. I also thought it was really fun to see them reconcile and learn from that. I also love Zack Pearlman, so it was fun seeing him as the crazy superfan in the sort of Comic-Con parody. A lot of the jokes in that scene were improvised.
Can you give any hints about the upcoming wedding episode finale?
What can I say? It has an evil cult, a bloodthirsty monster, and a lot of heart. And it’s written by the very talented Dan Mirk, who’s responsible for a lot of our best episodes.
What’s up next for you?
Right now, I’m working on another book of stories. They’re pretty weird, I guess? But they’re not weirder than Man Seeking Woman, so maybe I can stop calling them weird.
When you started at SNL, I was an intern.
Oh really? Oh cool!
Yeah! And I want to ask: SNL was obviously a lot of fun for all involved, but also pretty grueling in terms of the process. Would you say that SNL or creating your own show or even writing your short stories - what medium would you say has been the most demanding?
That’s a really good question. I would say there’s nothing like the stress of live television. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since. At Man Seeking Woman, the script goes through multiple passes before it even leaves the writer’s room. We do a table read, we cut the bad jokes, we write new ones, we add jokes on set if something isn’t working to our liking. We do multiple screenings where we re-cut the episode to make it sharper and stronger. So you have a million chances to get it right. And if something doesn’t work, it just means you have more writing to do; it’s not the end of the world. Whereas at SNL, the timeline was a hell of a lot shorter, so it’s sink or swim. The odds of bombing are way higher. And with my short story collections, I have the luxury of throwing away all the bad stories. My strategy is to write a huge pile and send them off to editors, agents and trusted colleagues, and they say “Hey, these ones are pretty bad” and I just throw them away. No one ever has to see them. There’s no danger of five million people reading it and saying ”What the hell is this?” It’s usually in the trash can pretty quickly. So the pressure is way lower. There’s nothing like live TV. It’s the scariest thing in the world. I’m amazed at people who last at that show for like ten years. They must have nerves of steel. Because after four years, I was pretty young, but I felt like I was close to developing an ulcer.
Yeah, that’s crazy stressful. Do you ever get writer’s block? And if you do, how do you get through it?
I’ve never had writer’s block. I’ve certainly written many things that weren’t good. My strategy has always just been to write as many words as I can and to just see what sticks. I figure if you throw enough stuff against the wall, pretty soon you’re going to have something that is good enough to publish or go on a TV show. If you write five pages a day and one out of five pages is good, then that’s seven good pages a week, and seven times fifty-two, that’s over three-hundred and fifty pages. So that’s a book a year. And that’s if you’re batting like two hundred. I do better than that. I bat more like three or four hundred, I would say.
Clearly. You write such great stuff.
Thank you. Well, you don’t see the bad stuff. You should see the pile I send to my editor. It’s mostly crap.
Is there anything else I didn’t ask you but you want to speak to?
I guess I would just want to give shout outs to all the great writers on staff. I’m really really proud of the work they did. I mentioned Dan Mirk and Stefani, but there’s also Mike O’Brien. He’s one of the funniest people on the planet. Also Jason Belleville and Cirocco Dunlap, she’s a hilarious writer from The New Yorker who I just think is brilliant. And Aaron Burdette who wrote our bachelor party episode and others. So I would just say thanks to all the writers because it was just a real honor and thrill to get to work with them. And I miss them.
Aw, that’s nice.
Do you remember where you sat as an SNL intern? Were you by the TV? By the kitchen area?
Yes, I was mostly by the TV and I would do the final revision run around. I would run around right before the show started and give everyone the final version of the scripts.
Oh, so you must have seen me super haggard and freaked out every week.
Not more than anyone else, I was always just amazed by it all.
By then, I was - I used to write with Mulaney and Marika Sawyer and they were both way more professional than I was and way better at producing. By Saturday, I remember pretty much just hiding in the corner and hoping Marika would fix all of the problems.
Well, us interns were pretty much just going down and stealing ice cream, so…
That’s right, ice cream. Did you ever take the big risk and go steal some of Lorne’s popcorn?
Nah, I never branched out.
Yeah, it was probably season three or four before I had the gall to go up and steal the popcorn.
Sydney Parker is a writer based in Seattle.