Why Women Kill, the Paramount+ series created by Desperate Housewives’ Marc Cherry, just dropped its second season finale. After a drama-filled season that saw the ascent of murderous Alma (Allison Tolman) at the expense of calculating Rita (Lana Parrilla), the two grand dames of the Elysium Park Garden Club had a final showdown. Unfortunately for Rita, her tendency to underestimate Alma resulted in her getting stabbed in the back (literally); sadly for Alma, her blood-soaked stole finally revealed her nefarious actions to the world.
It was a wild retro ride, and we have questions. Fortunately, Cherry took a few moments to talk to use about WWK season two, including the actor he originally wrote the part of Rita for, how Sunset Blvd. helped inspire the ending, and the main life lesson we can learn from Alma’s journey. Season three of the series has yet to be confirmed, but as the prolific Cherry tells us below, he’s already thinking about it.
The A.V. Club: How did the idea for Why Women Kill season two come about?
MC: I wanted to do an anthology series because I wanted to be able to change actors, change storytelling technique depending upon the idea that I had for any given season. When I pitched the ideas I had for season two and was talking to the network, they really responded to this story about a woman who wants to join the exclusive garden club and hang out with the pretty mean girls.
So I took a look at it and went, okay, is there someone from the first season that I can invite back? And I felt that for the specific parts I needed some new faces to make the characters work. The joy of doing an anthology show is I can either work with people I’ve worked with before or cast new and get to work with new actors. I’ve worked with so many wonderful people. I would love to bring some people back, but it’s usually driven by the idea.
I’ve got an idea for season three. I haven’t pitched it to the network yet, but it would require a whole new narrative device. That’s the joy of the anthology, is it just opened me up to making new choices. And unlike the network people and the same narrative device, now the sky’s the limit.
AVC: When you had this idea for season two, did you automatically think of Allison Tolman and Lana Parrilla for those roles? Because the season just seemed to rest on their shoulders completely.
MC: I’ll tell you something really funny about that. So when I have my initial meetings with the head of CBS casting, I meet with my producers and I meet with their whole casting team. I was talking about what I was looking for in the character. They prepare a document, which they do on most TV shows; they gave me this long list of names, and the only name I didn’t recognize was Allison Tolman. And everyone immediately jumped down my throat: “What, you haven’t seen the first season of Fargo?” So the next night after our meeting, I binged Fargo. And let me tell you, I worshiped that show and specifically Allison’s performance in it. And immediately she became my first choice. I said to everyone, I get it, I’m in love, let’s do it… and it’s been just a lovely working relationship which has now blossomed into absolute friendship because she’s just terrific. She really gets all styles of comedy; she got her start, I think, doing improv stuff in Chicago. You can see throughout the run of the series, she does some broader stuff and she does some things that are very silly indeed. I just had a blast with her.
Now with Lana, it kind of was a different situation. I wrote the part for Eva Longoria. I gave it to Eva and she said, “Marc, it’s great, but I’m shooting a movie when you guys start production.” And I said, “Oh, shoot, if I wrote this for you, who else can play this? I’m terribly frustrated that you can’t do it.” And she said, “You know, I’ve got this really good friend.” And this is the only time that’s ever happened to me in my career where I’ve offered something to an actor, and then they turn me on to the actor who ultimately got the part. So Lana came in and she read for it. And I fell in love immediately.
AVC: The thing about both of those actors is that they’re able to bring out sympathy for these characters even when they’re doing the most horrible things.
MC: I have a little bit of luck in my career finding women who you still like them even when I make them do just the most dreadful thing. I think part of it is good casting and finding women who can be vulnerable while they’re up to no-good shenanigans. You’ve got to look for actors who’ve got the twinkle in their eye when they’re doing their horrible stuff. You know, I’ve made a good living off of explaining why women make bad choices.
AVC: What would you say our takeaway is supposed to be from Alma’s journey at the end?
MC: There’s definitely a theme in its most simplistic form of be careful what you wish for: her goal of being beautiful, her goal of being popular, her goal of having power. It’s Rita who comes out as the heroic figure because at the end of episode nine, her attitude about beauty and happiness is the correct one; it’s this character who has the purest realization of what life is truly about. Alma goes about making these horrible choices to get what she thinks she wants, and at the very end she can’t let go. She becomes a woman driven by false idols. So for me, it’s really a show about showing someone who’s the loser, who starts to gain power, starts to become more beautiful, and gets everything she wants. And in this deal with the devil, as it were, she loses her way, and it’s the character of Rita who really finds the truth of what she wanted, but then is also taken down.
It was a little off for me to to to end it that way. But it was my way of saying that just because someone has a dream doesn’t mean it’s good for you. We live in the Kardashian society where people want fame and they want beauty and they want wealth. If anything, I speak to my own journey of going from an unemployed guy to getting everything I wanted. And having lost my mother this year, I’m constantly reminded that the simplest, most ordinary pleasures are the best. The best things in life cannot be achieved with money or power or fame. All of those things are fleeting and really dangerous goals.
That’s really what I wanted to say about Alma. And yet I still leave her in a weird way, having gotten what she wanted but she’s completely lost her mind. And I kept thinking of Sunset Blvd. It’s a tragic ending, but I don’t necessarily feel sad when I see Sunset Blvd, even though William Holden has been killed, and Gloria Swanson has descended into madness. It says something about the dangers, the pitfalls of Hollywood and what the industry can do to people. So for me, my cautionary tale required something tragic, something different than season one. And I want to surprise the audience, and I think for people who are used to me, they might be annoyed that I went for something that was more tragic, more sad, more reflective. But you know, I gave it a shot.
AVC: At one point this season, we noted that these episodes seemed soap opera-like, and we mean that in the best possible way. So we have to ask: Did you grow up watching soaps as a kid?
MC: All My Children and One Life To Live. Basically I had sixth period off my senior year in high school and me and my best friend would come back to our house. We’d catch the last part of All My Children and One Life To Live, then we’d go back to school.
I think the thing that’s the trick with soap opera, it’s a loaded phrase. Because what I like to do is that the shift to comedy. I like taking this serious scene and then suddenly it turns comic or taking a comic scene and suddenly it turns serious. I get to use my sitcom training from my Golden Girls days. If I was just doing a typical soap opera in terms of the old Dallas/Dynasty/Knot’s Landing mode, that would be very easy because the stakes are always very clear and dramatic. But I’m also trying to have a lot of fun with it and finding ways that the stakes get so incredibly high that the choices people are making become comedic. Therein lies the trick. It’s funny because I’ve seen on other shows, you know, how they set the stage differently. For me, I always say I want my drama to always have a twinkle in its eye and I want my comedy to always have a little bit of a bitter aftertaste—so that both genres can exist in the same world.