Netflix’s new comedy Love offers funny moments but suffers from Apatow excess
As I watched the first few episodes of the Judd Apatow-produced Love (now streaming the entire first season on Netflix), I wondered why this show chose the title. The two leads don’t really meet until the end of the premiere episode, and the general tone of the title suggests that it would be about two people meeting and immediately falling for each other. The series explores the modern path of romance to mixed results, but the chemistry of the leads allows it to lift off more than it should.
Our couple meets in one the unlikeliest places: Mickey (played by Gillian Jacobs) has forgotten her wallet and all she wants is a cup of coffee to get her day started. The clerk at the convenience store won’t let her take the coffee and come back with cash, and she immediately starts a profanity-laden tirade against him. Gus, played lovingly by Paul Rust, is probably the nicest character on television in years, and he offers to buy Mickey’s coffee and cigarettes.
Both Mickey and Gus have recently ended relationships, and their romance doesn’t begin right away as a traditional romantic comedy would. A recovering alcoholic, Mickey always seems to attract screw-ups while Gus’ niceness has become a detriment to every single girl he dates. Gus is obviously attracted to Mickey right away, and he struggles to normalize his interactions with her. He takes forever to compose a text to her, and he involves all of his friends on how he should behave when she’s around.
Love pulled off a rather clever bait-and-switch with its audience. It let us think that it was going to be a romantic comedy with an edge, but it takes its time with pushing Gus and Mickey together. As it adjusted into an assured tone and rhythm, I was reminded of Netflix’s other comedy success, Master of None. The Aziz Ansari show made us believe that it was going to be a straight up romance, but it surprised us with its depth and clever writing. Love follows a more traditional structure, and it’s stuffed with weird, broad characters.
Jacobs is so bright and lovable in everything else, that it’s really fun to see her play someone so messy. Her Mickey seems to be a great person to make bad decisions with, and Jacobs is ready and willing to make Mickey’s grubbiness grounded and fun. Jacobs is an addictive screen presence, and I didn’t even know it.
Rust’s Gus is nice to an almost infuriating degree, but wouldn’t you rather have a guy listen to your concerns and help you out than a total tool? It feels like the phrase, “nice guys finish last” was modeled after Gus, but Rust doesn’t always play him as a sickly love puppy. When he comes to the realization that all the love he’s seen in movies is a lie, he tosses each of the blu-rays out the window of Mickey’s speeding car (with her cheering him on). Gus is a nerdy powder keg—you want him to stick up for himself all the time, because when he does, it’s glorious.
One of the best characters is Mickey’s new Australian roommate, Bertie. Played by Claudia O’Doherty, Bertie is a ray of sunshine that you could pound back a few beers with. That luminous smile always feels genuine, but her perspective on dating men is so realistic and open that you can’t help but love her. I dare you to not smile every time O’Doherty is on screen. Other actresses would have made her cloying.
The Apatow machine can be a bit obnoxious, however. Can someone please let the director-producer develop a comedy focusing on a specific workplace and its weird characters? The odd staple of having inappropriate/crazy coworkers has worn out its welcome. Move on, Mr. Apatow. This also has to be the last instance of a character having a nervous breakdown on his to structure a text message to someone that he/she likes (I’m so glad that I started dating without the novelty of a cell phone). The assumed specificity of this is obnoxious and it makes the writing look slovenly in areas.
Is Love really about love? Some of these characters might not experience the big L. We complicate our relationships way too much, and that’s worth exploring. How about we re-title it this: Like—And We’ll See Where It Goes.