The main characters of the FXX series You’re the Worst don’t follow the rules of polite society. They are narcissists who talk in movie theaters, think everyone else is annoying and are frequently mean to the people they encounter. They also happen to be in love with each other.
Series executive producer Stephen Falk tells Fresh Air‘s Ann Marie Baldonado that the characters, Jimmy and Gretchen, are “stand-ins for the dark parts of all of us that are still deserving of love at the end of the day.”
Actress Aya Cash, who plays Gretchen, says her character’s relationship with Jimmy is a portrait of true intimacy because both characters show sides of themselves they aren’t necessarily proud of.
“We think we have to hide certain parts of ourselves [at the beginning of a relationship],” Cash tells Baldonado. “But the truth is that the things that you fall in love with are usually not the things that you’re first presenting.”
On how Falk pitched the show to the FX network
Falk: I was always a big fan of Mad About You, which was an NBC show when I was in high school and early college, I think, and I found it really romantic. It’s sort of a long-term depiction of a marriage … and it really went through the minutiae of the day-to-day of that kind of stuff. It was like a rom-com in slow motion. I was always fascinated by that.
And then I also had really become fascinated by British sitcoms and the fact that Brits tend to allow for actual humanity in their characters, and not to require their characters to hold up to some sort of false ideal of proper good behavior. So I sort of married those sensibilities. I kind of pitched it as a boozy, English-y, cable-y update of Mad About You.
On the main characters, Jimmy and Gretchen
Falk: I think they’re both narcissists. They probably have substance-abuse problems to a certain extent. They’re both pretty good at their jobs, but they’re incredibly self-involved and are sort of completely uninterested in their own psychology — or, in Jimmy’s case, too interested in his own psychology.
On showing a partner who you are up front, even if it’s bad
Cash: I think we all perform different sides of ourselves in different situations and with different people, and I think when you’re interested in someone romantically there’s a tendency to try to show the good parts first — bait and switch is a term that’s used often.
Personally, I’m a very patient person. I tend to date people who show me a lot up front that would make people run away. I had a boyfriend get arrested a couple dates in. I had a boyfriend pee in my roommate’s closet a couple dates in — actually, that’s the same guy. He ended up being a wonderful, wonderful human, and we dated for two years, but it all happened within the first month.
On the show’s frequent sex scenes
Falk: If you’re going to have a show about romantic relationships, I think sex is integral to that. I think we’re a bizarrely puritanical culture. American pop culture has gone in a really odd direction where sex is usually portrayed either as just for titillation, both in movies and TV, or it’s treated deeply, deeply seriously, with all the sexiness of it stripped out.
That always really bothered me. … I think it’s a great joy of being alive and being a human.
Cash: I think philosophically I’m very much on the same page as Stephen, but in reality I was like, “Oh God, no!” It’s terrifying to do, and I had never done them before, and I had been very specific about not doing nudity and not auditioning for stuff like that, mainly because as a lady you get asked to take your clothes off all the time, and I think most of it is pretty unnecessary. Because I thought this script was so interesting and good and I sort of understood the point of the sex scene, I got on board. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have normal human insecurities and anxieties about it.
On deciding to give Jimmy and Gretchen’s best friends, Edgar and Lindsay, stories of their own
Falk: I love playing with form and I remember when I first read or saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, it’s this play that takes two very minor characters in Hamlet and makes them central to their own story. And everything that goes on in Hamlet is happening around them and they’re witnessing it, and I thought that was an incredibly interesting shift.
So that’s sort of where that idea of sidekicks becoming self-aware came from. There’s this trope: When you have a rom-com, you need confidants, you know. It goes back to Shakespeare and probably before that. Juliet has her nurse. You need someone who is working behind the scenes as a sounding board and giving advice and making liaisons happen. It’s just kind of built in to the form.
But that always then kind of rankled with me — the idea that someone would exist just to be subordinate to someone is not really how anyone lives their life. I’m sure Smithers is central to his own drama and not just a sidekick to Mr. Burns. So that was what interested me about that. I need Jimmy and Gretchen to be able to talk to someone about their budding relationship; but at the same time, the dramatist in me couldn’t have those characters just be sidekicks, so I wanted them to have some sort of self-awareness.
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