Breakfast tater tots. Breakfast nachos. Breakfast lasagna. You’re the Worst isn’t the first TV series to have a fixation on the perfection that is the morning meal, but—no offense to Seinfeld or Breaking Bad—FXX’s critically hailed comedy series about a couple of hard-drinking middle-aged Los Angeles hipsters certainly excels at celebrating it. In fact, perhaps one of the show's most popular plot points is the vaunted tradition of “Sunday Funday,” in which the characters take an all-day brunching adventure. “A lot of people I know, myself included, think that breakfast should be for all meals and it’s been ghettoized for too long,” says Stephen Falk, the creator of the dark “romantic comedy.”
Other food-related items have their place on the show, like when perpetual frat boy Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson), breaks out his secret recipe for “trash juice,” or jokes about Red Napkin, a company that bares similar qualities to a certain dinner prep delivery service enjoyed by the upper and upper-middle class who are sick of the options on Postmates. But as Falk says, “We should be free to waffle.”
He and I are sitting on a spare chair and ottoman on You’re the Worst’s set, out of the way of a just-wrapped scene from the upcoming third-season finale where Edgar (Desmin Borges), an Army vet with particular knack for constructing elaborate savory breakfast spreads, has just made breakfast sushi.
“Breakfast sushi” could either conjure stomach-churning or mean hangover relief, depending on a few key ingredients. Luckily for actress Kether Donohue, who plays the sexually confused Lindsay and has to eat this concoction over multiple takes, it’s the latter. John Keim, the show’s property master, has designed the dish with cut rolls filled with bacon or covered with a fried quail egg. A couple of berries are sliced just so and set on the edges of the plate for garnish.
“Being a prop master, you never really know what you’re going to be faced with,” Keim says. “For instance, it said a couple episodes ago that Jimmy cracks open and drinks a raw egg. But [actor Chris Geere, who plays Jimmy,] didn’t wanted to have to drink a raw egg over and over again. So I had to figure out some way to make a raw egg that we could see him crack and see him pour. I ended up blowing out a bunch of eggs and making the clear out of karo syrup and making the yolk out of pudding that I’d food-colored. You have to always find a creative solution to the problems presented, not just in the food but in every [prop].”
He confirms that it’s more important that the food look good onscreen than it is to offer something that will satiate the cast (and any lucky nearby crewmember interested in leftovers), but that “you’re also concerned that the actors don’t hate you.”
Keim, who likes to cook in his off time, runs with these ideas that sometimes seem like rejected recipes from the Epic Meal Time web series. This season, he devised a Monte Cristo sandwich covered in kids’ cereal. (Director of photography Mike Berlucchi got to be the guinea pig who sampled the failed prototypes.)
“We pitched around a bunch of ideas [for how it would look] and finally the first assistant director said ‘I had it with cereal crushed up on it,’” Keim says. “And I threw out the famous line ‘Fruit Loops! There’s something intrinsically funny about Fruit Loops.’ So we ended up with Fruit Loop Monte Cristo sandwiches. I tried several different ways of cooking... [and finally settled on] battering it to tape them on.”
While Keim oversees prop design, the actual recipes are dreamed up in the writers’ room, and have been a mainstay of the series since the first episode. Falk says they do have a list of food for fodder that they would like to see worked into the show. He wouldn’t divulge what those may be, saying only that a menu item already associated with breakfast, like a blintz, wouldn’t show up on screen without getting especially Edgar-ized.
The breakfast obsession of his fictional characters has already infiltrated Falk’s personal life. Recently, he tells me, what started as a nice outing to his friend’s girlfriend’s paella restaurant in the Bay Area sent him into his own brainstorming session for breakfast paella. He appreciates that other restaurants have picked up on this trend, noting that “nowadays, there is breakfast pasta [on restaurant menus], with people taking carbonara into a different realm, and breakfast pizza.” Claiming he’s “all about the blends” of different regional and cultural cuisines, he name-checks meals at restaurants near his East Los Angeles home like Trois Familia, an early-morning spot co-owned by chef and TV personality Ludo Lefebvre that has dishes like crispy hash brown chilaquiles and double-decker potato tacos, or Canele, the cozy bistro where Falk orders fried faro with egg, bacon, and bok choy.
Although a special take on pancakes make an appearance this season on You’re the Worst, Falk has a vested interest in the creations leaning toward the savory. “I think egg is kind of a perfect food,” he says. “It’s easy protein. You can crack an egg on anything and it’s great. When I go for breakfast stuff, I’m less pancake- and pastry-based and I tend to go for eggs. And a lot of these characters, they tend to go for what I like because I wrote them.” Falk is joking, but he accepts that there is a pattern in his work. (One of his other TV credits is Weeds, a comedy focusing on a suburban soccer mom with a deep love for coffee.)
“I’m also weird in that I’m a night owl, but I like early mornings,” he says. “I tend to wake up at like 5 or 5:30 and I like to stay up as late as I can, so I don’t sleep a lot. If you sleep through breakfast, then you wake up at lunch and no one likes lunch. Lunch is fucking boring.”