By the age of 30, everyone knows what it’s like to fall for the wrong person. If you’re under 30 and that hasn’t happened to you yet, just you wait.
Chemistry is a tricky thing, and so is desire, and getting those two things to line up just right – and to be in a place where you’re capable of appreciating that miracle – is a rare and wonderful thing. Winding up in a misaligned relationship, though? That happens way more often.
The new Netflix series Love, created by Judd Apatow and real-life couple Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust, is the latest in a growing subgenre of shows that deconstruct the romantic comedy by taking its tropes apart and slapping them back together in a new, weird configuration. The others include Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Master Of None, also on Netflix, and Stephen Falk’s lacerating You’re The Worst and Simon Rich’s absurdist Man Seeking Woman, both on FXX. You should be watching all of them.
Love charts the relationship between Gus and Mickey, a pair of Los Angeles thirtysomethings who are deeply flawed people that might be able to save one another if they can just figure out they belong together.
Co-creator Rust is Gus, a dorky guy who works as a tutor to the child actors on a dopey TV show about witches in 50s America the series opens with him dumping his longtime girlfriend after she tells him she’s cheated on him. Gillian Jacobs is Mickey, a program director at a satellite radio station who’s just given up on a boyfriend who refuses to grow up.
Gus spends his free time making music with his nerdy friends, while Mickey throws herself into drugs and booze. Neither of them is happy. And then they meet, and maybe they could be, if they let themselves.
Love spends a lot of its time exploring the ways in which people destroy their own happiness. Mickey’s so invested in her no-bullshit image that she sees everything as manipulation or negotiation she’s incapable of enjoying anything at face value. Gus, on the other hand, spends so much time interrogating his own responses to things (and other people’s responses to his responses) that he’s incapable of responding to the world in real time.
While Mickey is presented as a trainwreck – the original title of the series, until Apatow lifted it for his Amy Schumer movie – Gus is just as much of a mess it just takes us longer to understand it. And over Love’s 10 episodes, as the two protagonists figure out what they want and how to get it, the show keeps shifting its sympathies from one to the other.
At first, the show seems like a weird kind of wish fulfillment for co-creator Rust, whose squawky, awkward Gus gets to roll around with a series of very attractive co-stars. Jacobs, on the other hand, is lit and made up to look exhausted and hollowed-out in a lot of ways, her Mickey is a worst-case version of Britta, the overenthusiastic fuckup Jacobs played on Community. But we gradually get to understand how these people came to be who they are, with the episodes trickling out information in much the same way couples learn about one another in the first few weeks of dating.
This is, again, something a lot of shows do, especially romantic sitcoms. What’s really compelling about Love is that it refuses to be a comedy. Although almost every role is filled with a comic actor – seriously, the credits read like a who’s who of Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast guests, somehow leaving out only Andy Daly and Paul F. Tompkins – it’s a much darker ride.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t laughs. The fifth episode, which is built around an ill-advised dinner date between Gus and Mickey’s Australian roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty, herself a CBB all-star), is almost painfully funny, finding huge laughs in the characters’ core failings while setting up a final moment that isn’t funny at all – but lands perfectly, and reverberates through the subsequent episodes.
I watched all of Love in a single night – it only took about six hours, including breaks to let the dog out to yell at raccoons. I have no idea how it’ll play for you, but I was totally invested, and I’m awfully curious to see where Apatow, Arfin and Rust take the series in the already-ordered second season. Godspeed, weirdoes.