This Wednesday night’s fifth and final season premiere of You’re the Worst opens with a meet-cute at a video rental store between two characters we’ve never met before.
The guitar on the soundtrack and posters on the wall for Speed, The Full Monty and Independence Day—as well as the fact that we’re in a video rental store—let us know that we’re somewhere in the mid-to-late ’90s. “Where’s Space Jam?” one customer asks Jake, a grungy clerk who prefers French New Wave over Hollywood new releases. The romance begins when a young film student enters the store and bonds with him over their shared love of obscure cinema.
Their story, which at first has seemingly nothing to do with the couple at the center of this FXX series, moves through loving homages to movies like Empire Records and Notting Hill before arriving at its unambiguously happy ending. And it was all part of creator Stephen Falk’s attempt to see if he could pull off a classic romantic comedy.
“Something sort of bothered me about doing a show that was talked about as an anti-rom-com,” Falk tells me. “It’s sort of an easy categorization, which can be very useful, but at the same time in that phrase is an inherent dislike of traditional rom-coms, which I don’t share.” He wanted to give viewers something “fresh and honest” as opposed to the typical studio rom-com that “eventually wore itself out.” Specifically, Falk cites the work of actress Katherine Heigl, which he refers to as the “death knell” of the genre.
The 46-year-old showrunner has met me for lunch at the Brite Spot diner in Los Angeles' Echo Park, a location familiar from the show. Wearing a Sundance Film Festival cap and plaid flannel shirt, he slides into a corner booth and takes in the scene around him. Just a few feet away from where we’re sitting is the table where You’re the Worst’s four main characters—British-born novelist Jimmy (Chris Geere), music publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash) and their respective best friends Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Lindsay (Kether Donohue)—have been filmed brunching during each of the show’s five seasons. And yet Falk has never actually eaten here until now. Instead of the customary pancakes, he goes with a kale salad and cup of tomato soup, explaining that he’s “trying to lose weight after the holidays like every other asshole in town.”
Falk has just finished post-production on the final season and while he does have a new movie project in the works—more on that later—he suddenly has a lot of unstructured downtime. It’s reminding him of the last time he was “unemployed.” It was about six years ago, after the first show he created, Next Caller—starring comedian Dane Cook as a satellite radio shock jock—was prematurely canceled and before he got a gig on the writing staff of Orange Is the New Black. When he finally stopped “feeling sorry” for himself, he sat down and wrote the pilot for You’re the Worst.
Jimmy and Gretchen’s first meeting in the show’s pilot, which first aired on FX in July 2014, was not as cute as the one we see in this week’s premiere. It was at the wedding of Jimmy’s ex-girlfriend, just after he’d been kicked out for insulting the bride. “You’re pretty,” he tells Gretchen offhandedly when she bums a cigarette from him. “Thanks?” she replies. From there, what was meant to be a one-night stand has evolved into a genuinely loving, if fucked-up relationship that culminated in an unconventional marriage proposal at the end of season four.
The big question that hangs over this final season: Can an “anti-rom-com” about doomed lovers with a theme song that declares “I’m gonna leave you anyway” really end in wedded bliss?
“I didn’t exactly know what choice I wanted them to make,” Falk says of Jimmy and Gretchen. “There are some binary choices you have when you’re leading up to a wedding in terms of will they or won’t they go through with it. Not to give anything away, but I think there are arguments for both.”
“I only very vaguely flirted with the idea of them not ending up together,” he continues, starting to give something away. “I just think disappointing an audience is very easy and kind of a cop-out, akin to killing off your main character. I felt like that would be kind of cruel and render the whole five-season arc kind of pointless.” After putting a lot of thought into it, Falk feels like the ending of the series is both “completely inevitable” and at the same time “surprising.”
Throughout the final season, which features one last, deliciously off-the-rails “Sunday Funday” and a bottle episode of sorts inspired by Call Me by Your Name, Falk has also sprinkled in some ominous flash forwards that hint at a less-than-happy ending for his protagonists. Viewers get a “glimpse into the future” without what Falk views as the “tired trope” of a late-season time jump. “I say that with an awareness that Casual did that,” he notes of another Los Angeles-set series about finding love. “I have not seen that show, so I don’t mean to slight it, but to me it’s sort of a narrative, easy escape valve.”
When I ask Falk why the show is ending after five seasons, he lets out a telling chuckle. “I should probably be diplomatic, but no, FX just called me and said we’re picking you up for another season, but it’s going to be your last,” he reveals. As “bummed out” as he was by the news, he admits, that “five seasons for a low-rated, basic cable show right now” is not bad.
Of course, FX is the same network that has kept It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—another comedy about debaucherous singles—running for 13 seasons and counting. Falk says he’s not quite sure how those guys “retain their own interest” in the show after so long before adding, “I’m sure being able to buy a whole block worth of houses helps.”
Ideally, Falk imagined You’re the Worst running six seasons so that he could move into the phase of a relationship that typically comes after marriage. As the father of two young children, he says he would have loved to “delve into the world of procreation.”
“I always wanted the show to logically follow the very typical signposts of a relationship,” he says. “From moving in to saying ‘I love you’ to taking a break to getting married, all those things.”
If he was going to do a “subversive take” on the rom-com genre, then he wanted to hang it on the same structure. “Obviously, it’s not a parody,” he insists. “It functions as a romantic comedy. But I think in order to show how you’re doing it a little differently it has to feel like the same form.”
Now, just as Falk’s “anti-rom-com” is ending, Hollywood is experiencing an unlikely resurgence of good old-fashioned rom-coms, mostly thanks to Netflix, which produced presumed hits like The Set Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. So naturally, he’s jumping on board, writing and directing his own “more traditional” romantic comedy movie for Sony Pictures.
After five seasons of You’re the Worst, Falk says he finally feels ready to “participate in a genre that I spent a lot of time softly lampooning or talking shit about in interviews.”
“I’m hoping to get Katherine Heigl,” he quips, “but if she says no we’ll find someone else.”