LOVE has a lot to recommend it; it’s just a shame that so much of it is round the edges. The latest in a long line of Netflix Originals, Love is a collaboration between Girls‘ Judd Apatow, Girls‘ Lesley Arfin and I Love You, Beth Cooper’s Paul Rust and as you may have guessed, it’s about love. Rust also stars as Gus, a tutor for the young actors of a terrible period drama with witches called Witchita (I’ll admit, that pun got me) alongside his romantic interest Mickie (played by the ever wonderful Gillian Jacobs), a recovering addict and producer of a self-help radio host (played by the equally ever wonderful, and excellent Billy Crystal impressionist, Brett Gelman).
They meet, it’s not that cute and they slowly fall ‘in love’. I warn you, slowly is key here – if you want your television fast paced and escapist, just stop reading now, you will hate this show. There’s no shame in that, this is a very acquired taste, in fact I would estimate that more of you are going to dislike this than won’t but even then, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot in it to reward those willing to wait.
Primarily it must be said that Rust, Arfin and Apatow know how to gather a damn good cast. Jacobs always seemed like she was a good fit for Community but that she really deserved something that put her front and centre instead of part of an (admittedly fantastic) ensemble but surrounding her with comedic ringers like The State‘s Kerry Kenney-Silver, Mad Men‘s Rich Somner, Kyle Kinane, improv stallwarts Betsy Sodaro, Seth Morris, most of The Birthday Boys, Dave Allen (believe me, you’ve den him in something, just IMDb him) and Eels (Mark Everett isn’t really an actor but he doesn’t embarrass) managing to breathe life into the background and make the Los Angeles this show takes place in feel like a real place.
Quite an achievement considering it’s Los Angeles. Of course some of the characters never really progress past ‘friend’ or ‘co-worker who’s a bit of a dick but still kinda feels motivated in his dickishness’ but for the most part, it works. The thing I’m most grateful for is the opportunity for a larger audience to see Claudia O’Doherty. The Australian comic gets a real chance to have some fun as Bertie, Mickey’s cheerful flatmate and her upbeat, offbeat delivery really creates an interesting presence with a mid-series episode involving a disastrous date between her and Gus becoming a comedic highlight of the entire series.
The show’s main problem, sadly happens to be its main concern, Gus. It’s not that Rust isn’t funny or occasionally oddly charming, it’s just that the writing tends to make him not exactly empathetic but in ways that I don’t know if Rust is capable of making work. In the first episode a comedic set-piece involves Gus being about to have a threesome with two younger, more attractive women when he feels weirded out because they’re sisters. I’m not saying this isn’t a weird situation but it confuses the dynamic early on by making Gus seem a bit whiny about being in his thirties and seeming inexplicably attractive to lots of younger, pretty women.
Are we meant to find his fortunate misfortune amusing, endearing or just a bit odd for all involved. Throughout the show, it’s clear that Gus is meant to be his own worst enemy, it’s a trait he shares with Mickey but at least Mickey is written as not pretending she isn’t a fuck-up, Gus is convinced he’s a nice guy and that he isn’t the problem and maybe that’s the problem is at times it feels like the show attempts to both subvert and celebrate this.
He’s somehow meant to be an It’s Always Sunny-esque unlikable protagonist but also a charming rom-com lead and the blend doesn’t work nearly as well as Chris Geere in You’re The Worst (I’m going to try to limit talking about YTW from here on out, but it’s very good. It’s coming to 5* soon so watch it, UK readerrs). He has moments like when he gets to a party early and to help stop an argument between the hosts, he agrees to clean all the garden furniture but there’s a lack of genuine warmth to Rust’s performance style that makes him feel like a much better dramatic writer than performer.
I do have to admire Love‘s commitment to its pacing. Where your standard rom-com might divert a scene to a terrible date, Love has two (two!) different episodes that push these situations into nearly real-time exploration of complete and utter romantic failure. In many ways, this is a Judd Apatow movie stretched out to about six hours, yet that awkward lethargy lends the show its unique natural approach to storytelling, allowing for a different approach to, at times, very familiar scenarios. Television has had its fair share of lead characters whose hamartia is their addiction, but one of the fascinating things, structurally, about Love is that Mickey is never really shown above rock bottom.
From the moment we meet her she is still drinking and taking drugs; there’s not even really a desire on her part to quit, more just to be seen to have quit and be coping. Mickey is initially portrayed as brittle and abrasive but quite vulnerable; much like the show around her, it struggles to let its guard down and really embrace the idea that anything could actually be enjoyed at face value. I should mention again here, Jacobs sells this; she doesn’t try to make her character unnecessarily cool or cute or anything, she is the most ‘real’ aspect of the show and believe me, some of the extra stuff can get quite cartoony but it holds together, for the most part.
I liked Love, I maybe even like-liked it but I didn’t love it. It was a weaker version of other recent shows (sadly between You’re The Worst, Man Seeking Woman and Married, FX really has cornered the market on modern romance narratives.) but for what it is, it’s still good enough. It’s already been announced that the show is coming back for a second season and I am excited to see where this show goes next because it has a lot to love. Now if they can just sort out their main character, who knows? Maybe I can learn to love it.