Love – Season One
Starring Paul Rust, Gillian Jacobs, Claudia O’Doherty, Tracie Thomas, Andy Dick and Jordan Rock.
A program that follows a couple who must navigate the exhilarations and humiliations of intimacy, commitment and other things they were hoping to avoid.
I got turned off from Love before I even bothered to watch the trailer. I knew all I needed to know about it, in my opinion, and that was the fact that it was produced by Judd Apatow. Apatow, who has been involved in some outstanding works of comedy like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Anchorman, has also produced some of my least favourite films ever; namely, Seth Rogan movies. I don’t really have a problem with Seth Rogen, per se, or in fact with Apatow (except perhaps his exhaustingly mechanical use of the hot girl stereotype, which incidentally surfaces in Love – but more on that later), I just really, really, really don’t get stoner movies. My friends tell me I’m uptight, so maybe it’s my problem, not theirs; but (sorry) I cannot get my head around the likes of The Pineapple Express, Stepbrothers, Knocked Up et al. So there’s my disclaimer.
Initially I wasn’t going to bother with Love, for the aforementioned reasons, but after multiple rave reviews from friends I resolved to give it a go. It was only halfway through scrolling through Netflix trying to find a Louis Theroux documentary I haven’t yet seen, that I saw Love and impulsively ran the first episode.
I’d finished the whole season by the next afternoon. This is more a testament to the psychology behind the Netflix bingewatch mentality than it is to Love, but there is absolutely no denying that this series, which I so easily dismissed, is compelling, engaging, and most importantly of all (something which is consistently missing from Apatow’s previous work) truthful while maintaining comedy.
Love is about love, though not in the most literal sense of the word. The show relies on familiar tropes to elaborate on its girl-meets-boy premise, but is able to do so in a refreshing, unconventional manner which is both appealing and slightly repellent in its honesty. People say that good art will hold up a mirror to reality, and Love does this but it makes you feel guilty about how much of yourself you see in its two lead characters and the subject of the show: Mickey and Gus, played by Gillian Jacobs from Community, and Paul Rust (Pee-wee’s Big Holiday), who also co-created the show with his wife Lesley Arfin.
There is plenty to like about Love, and the impeccable casting is the crowning jewel of this show. Gillian Jacobs’ character Mickey is an alcoholic, drugs-sex-love-addicted radio producer hanging on to stability by a thread after a messy breakup with her good-for-nothing cokehead boyfriend. Rust plays the conventional geek, Gus, who works as a tutor on a film set for a budget made-for-TV drama, but dreams of being in the writers’ room rather than the schoolroom. Both characters are three-dimensional in their self-destructive personalities, their obsessions and their interests. Their lives are tedious, but the writing of Love shows magic amid the tedium, allowing Gus and Mickey to becomes relatable and much closer to the audience. Standing out from the recurring characters is Mickey’s Australian roommate Bertie, played by Claudia O’Doherty (Trainwreck, The Inbetweeners 2, Inside Amy Schumer), who is both adorable and side-splittingly hilarious. Also on the bill is Tracie Thomas as Gus’s hard-ass boss Susan Cheryl (possibly a character inspired by Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes), and Mickey’s friend Andy (Andy Dick, whose casting incidentally has drawn criticism to the show and Apatow, considering Dick’s long and unpleasant history of sexually aggravated offences), who joins her on a trippy night on the LA subway. Also on the bill is comedian Jordan Rock as Kevin, who is hilarious in his efforts to make fun of the ‘black friend who gives good advice’ stereotype in movies, while living it in the show.
Despite some stellar casting choices, there is also a fair bit about Love which makes it feel tired, formulaic and predictable. It relies heavily on Hollywood tropes to generate its story, and the result feels uninspired. It’s set in LA and its two central characters are both working in show business (a radio producer and an aspiring TV writer), arguably both trying to ‘make it’. Both characters are on the rebound after messy breakups with characters who were obviously not right for them. They both have self-worth and commitment issues. Most prominently, Love relies on the geeky, unattractive guy / hot, unattainable girl trope which is so frequently utilised in comedy, and this is one of its biggest downfalls, something which Vulture has written about eloquently here. In addition to this, I find that Mickey and Gus themselves are sometimes reduced to stereotypes: the bespectacled, introverted guy and the beautiful but fucked-up girl. It’s a ready-made American Pie movie. Fortunately for Love, its saving grace is in the detail, and the portrayal of Mickey in particular by Gillian Jacobs as a three-dimensional, complex and emotionally evolved human is sublime. It’s rare that we see a female lead so well-rounded in romantic comedies, despite the stereotypes, and perhaps that’s way Jacobs’ performance stands out so much.
The writing is witty, dynamic and hilarious, although at times the plot progression is a little frustrating as we see both characters make terrible decisions with obviously horrendous consequences. More than once, I was compelled to shout at the screen while watching. On the flip side of this, our two leads make so many terrible decisions and stab each other in the back on so many occasions that as observers, we are forced to choose – Team Mickey or Team Gus. This is enforced by dialogue and action as Mickey and Gus become increasingly at odds with one another, and unfortunately it destroys the whole premise of the show. We are supposed to be rooting for this pair, or at least I assume that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, but instead we find ourselves picking sides and (for me at least) wishing that they would both just pack it in and stay single – because clearly they are developing an extremely unhealthy relationship. I guess you could say this approach is true to life, and that Love is displaying what it’s really like to start a new relationship, with all of those reservations and obstacles to overcome. But in equal measure, it is an uncomfortable feeling to watch a romantic comedy and have a strong dislike for one or both of the proponents of the romance element. Without spoiling it, the final episode of Love left me reeling. I strongly felt as though the writers had made the wrong decision with those final moments, and the message of that ending was an unhealthy one. Suffice to say, I’m relieved that a second season is already in the works (due in 2017).
Despite all of this ugly stuff – Apatow’s self-indulgent casting and resorting to cheap tropes – I have to say that Love really was compelling and very easy to watch. Despite being dubious going in to this show, I was quickly converted, and found myself bingewatching. I felt that Gillian Jacobs was stronger than Paul Rust as a lead, and that both actors delivered complex, insightful portrayals of highly developed characters who you could easily know in your own life. I’m definitely not an Apatow convert, and I don’t think I ever will be, and I highly doubt that Apatow was responsible for the production of a complex female character, as seen in Jacobs’ Mickey. But Love was definitely a strong piece of work, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next season brings.