When You’re The Worst aired its pilot on FX in July, 2014, viewers had only two questions: who was that British dude, and was that really his accent? (Answer: Chris Geere and yes.) Since then, YTW has gone on to critical acclaim: The A.V. Club named it one of the best shows of last year, and Vanity Fair kind of agreed. The series–about a one-night stand between two very toxic people–had an even stronger second season, bringing in more accolades, higher ratings and three Critics’ Choice Nominations (despite moving to FX’s sister channel, FXX, for season 2).
If that wasn’t enough to make you green with envy for the geniuses who came up with the idea of packaging the tragedy of modern relationships into a half-hour (dark) comedy, last week it was announced that creator, showrunner and executive producer Stephen Falk’s plum development deal with FX Networks and FX Productions included not only a third season of YTW, but two other comedy series as well: an adaptation of the novel Join Me, to be written by YTW’s Franklin Hardy and Shane Kosakowski, and a “dirty, female-driven take on the ‘you can’t go home again story,'” which Mr. Falk is writing and producing with another You’re the Worst writer (and famed UCB alum), Alison Bennett. Mr. Falk previously worked on the Showtime hit, Weeds.
We spoke to Mr. Falk and Ms. Bennett via email (the latter currently on a “Bachelor in Paradise-themed weekend in Mexico” with girlfriends) about their new show(s), what constitutes a “cool job,” and the tricky terminology of an Executive Producer credit.
Observer: How did you guys develop the concept of this show?
Alison Bennett: The benefit (horror?) of having worked in a small, tight-knit writers room for a couple years is that we all know each other really well. We all could write complete biographies of the other YTW writers. Stephen and I had been tossing ideas around for a while and when we were shooting the big car crying scene from episode six, he came up to me and said, “Your stories about growing up in Central Pennsylvania are fucking weird. Let’s do something about that.” I’ve always wanted to work on something about PA and my dad’s flea market and my relationship with him, so I was thrilled.
From there, we sat and just talked it out over a period of weeks — we’ve worked on twenty-three episodes of television together, so it’s a very comfortable creative process. There’s definitely a shorthand.
Stephen Falk: We really only worked on 22 episodes of television together. I did the pilot alone. I don’t know why Alison is always trying to take credit for things she didn’t work on. Maybe I need to rethink this whole thing.
Observer: What can you tell us about the show so far? (Re: plot, influences, themes, etc.)
AB: PLOT: The working title for the show is Ali Gives Up. Unable to hack it in the big city, Ali moves back home to work at her father’s flea market in rural Pennsylvania and attempts to be a “normo” with smaller dreams — which, of course, proves to be a completely ignorant endeavor. It’s a dirty, female-driven take on the “you can’t go home again” story.
INFLUENCES: I grew up in Central PA in Amish country — a super tiny town. My dad owns an antique mall and flea market there and I spent my teen years selling Wedgwood china and portraits of dead Victorian babies. I sold collectibles to every weirdo in the region — and there were a lot of them. Central PA is a really crazy place. Falk grew up in the Bay Area (fancy!), so I would tell him stories involving guns and meth and a large percentage of my teachers getting fired for child molestation and he’d be like, “Holy shit.” But that redneck lawlessness is the majority of this country. In the late sixties, there were a million comedies about people in rural areas, but now everyone is like an architect in New York. We want to do a show that plays with L.A. and New York’s provincial views of “flyover” America.
THEME: Stephen and I always talk about the fact that most people in the entertainment industry are missing the chip to be satisfied with anything at all, let alone a “normal” life. But living in a big city and having a “cool” job and having the ability to get pho at 3am does not make a person happy. I was just home for Thanksgiving and I visited some friends and they had the loveliest, hippest life and there was a moment where I thought, “What am I doing?” But even when Ali makes the decision to move back home, she’s not really participating in life — she’s just standing outside of life and making fun it.
Observer: A lot of news about Ali Gives Up is heralding it as a female-centric comedy. Is that something you two sat down to do originally–ie, was it important that this show pass the Bechdel test?– or was it more like “We have this great character, and she just happens to be a woman?”
AB: All of the pilots I’ve worked on have women at the center. It’s a combination of being a girls’ girl (I’m answering this email in a bikini from a Bachelor in Paradise-themed weekend in Mexico with six of my girlfriends) (editor’s note: change holiday plans to that) and also wanting to see more female-driven comedy on television. Ever since I was coming up at UCB New York, it’s been my mission to write interesting, bonkers characters for women.
A couple years ago I had a development meeting at a cable network and a female executive actually said to me, in frustration, “If your main character doesn’t have a dick, we’re probably not interested.” I almost took my notebook and free
SF: Semi-facetious answer: I like girls a lot more than I like boys, both as artists and people and in general find their stories more interesting and urgent-to-be-told these days. Real answer: see semi-facetious answer.
Observer: Can you talk a little bit about the process of working out these two deals with FX? Were they super receptive to both projects? Was it harder than pitching the show with a female lead opposed to the one based on Join Me? Were you given any network notes (that you’re willing to share?)
SF: I pitched the projects separately and fully, like I would if I didn’t already have a show with FX; they decided to do both. They had more questions about Join Me just because it’s an odder duck. We haven’t gotten far enough to get notes yet but FX is always very judicious and smart with their feedback and 95% of the time provide invaluable guidance. (The other 5% are probably perfectly good notes I’m too dumb to understand or stubborn to accept.)
Observer: Stephen, you’re going to be EP on both shows, but (for all of us stuck here in not-Hollywood) what does that entail, exactly?
SF: The Executive Producer label can be confusing because it can be meaningless. Some people are EPs on shows they never did a day of work on. Some do everything. There are many reasons for that — they might have shot the pilot and retained EP credit, they might have helped assemble the team, they might just rep a key player and have the juice to wrangle the credit, they might be a writer on the show for eight seasons and work their way up to the credit. My role is undefined right now but I have and will work closely with the writers developing the show and/or co-write the pilot. Then I’ll help produce the pilot in a soup-to-nuts way. Then how day-to-day I am depends on the status and timing or other projects, including You’re The Worst.
Observer: You’re the Worst has become a critics’ favorite in narrative comedy this year. (It really has.) And you’re getting a third season! But your new deal is scattering so many writers from YTW to work on these two new projects; do you have a plan on how to keep the writers from getting burned out?
AB: I will work on YTW forever, until I die.
SF: They will learn to multi-task, which is an important skill to have in Hollywood. Also, yes, I will make sure they die on the job. But in seriousness, I came to Weeds already with about 8 unsuccessful pilot deals under my belt, including a current one, at the time. I also shot 2 of my own pilots while working on other shows, so it’s very common and doable to develop other projects while giving full attention to another. It just makes for long hours.
Observer: I’m really interested in how different writers rooms are run. Can you tell me a little bit how the room for YTW operates, and what you’ve learned from running one? Did you get any good advice along the way, or do you have any to impart on your writers who are going off to now work in other rooms?
AB: Stephen runs a tight room at YTW. We start every morning by going around and saying what we did the night before — which is great, because we get to hear all of Shane Kosakowski’s insane Tinder stories — but it also calms that itch to chat and do bits throughout the day. He also has a “no cell phones in the room” rule. We stay very focused and because of that, we get a crazy amount of work done and still keep humane hours. I plan on stealing everything when I run my own room someday.
SF: I pride myself on running a very fun but very focused and active room. We do shoot the shit a lot and laugh way too long and too hard, but we get a lot done. If either show becomes an actual series, we’ll figure out who runs them and how and when. But for now we’re focused on going back to YTW Season 3 and figuring out what the hell we’re going to do.