Netflix’s Love is a complicated portrayal of one unlikable character, and an insipid portrayal of another

Netflix’s model of releasing all episodes at once is a major problem for many shows, which pad their lengths to seasons-long arcs with a movie’s worth of ideas yet lacking any episodic satisfaction. That same problem though can be a huge boon to hang-out shows, allowing us to get deeply invested in the characters without needing to worry about time constraints for narrative thrust and plenty of natural pauses. It worked well for Master of None, which I didn’t adore but liked a fair amount. It also works very well for half of Love, Judd Apatow, Leslie Arfin, and Paul Rust’s show that bears a significant resemblance to Apatow productions like Knocked Up. It allows the humor to flow while also letting the tragedy set in without an oversaturation of melodrama. Unfortunately, it crashes and burns for the other half, where one of the characters is just not that much fun to hang out with. It becomes an odd amalgamation of the hate-watch and the legitimate, which got me through the entire season but not without constant complaining.

Love concerns the star-crossed trajectories of (on paper) free-spirit Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and nerdy Gus (Paul Rust). Those on-paper descriptions falter pretty quickly, where Mickey’s free-spiritedness and Gus’ nebbishness are shown to be a front for deep-seated interpersonal issues and all-encompassing selfishness. Mickey’s character treats other people terribly, has no direction in life, and is a generally miserable presence; she’s also a complete character who is actively trying to understand and better herself, which makes her fascinating and sympathetic. Gus, on the other hand, is the least self-aware character in existence, another subversion of the Nice Guy trope who denies culpability in his wrongdoings and escapes relatively unscathed and uneducated. He’s an uninteresting and static character who we learn almost nothing about really over the course of the series, aside from it being continually confirmed that he’s a selfish prick with occasional moments of awkward charm who abuses any small amount of power handed to him. Gus is an interesting character, but not a particularly novel one, and definitely not a particularly sympathetic one.

His half of the show is the hate-watch, whereas Mickey’s is the legitimately fantastic show. She’s a subversion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which has been done before (500 Days of Summer, Eternal Sunshine, Master of None to an extent) but rarely from the female perspective. When she abuses her roommate, trashes a party, or lies at an AA meeting, its certainly not portrayed favourably, but the humanity behind it is not lost. We consistently want better from and for Mickey because she wants better from and for herself. Jacobs is stellar in the role, and a bit of a revelation as a dramatic actress. Perhaps her greatest trick is convincing us that she would be interested in Gus, not because he actually is any better but because we know she has white-knighted the Nice Guy on the surface. There’s a weird reversal of the norms at work where Mickey is the one putting Gus on a pedestal, with the dark side of the Nice Guy trope playing as a complete surprise to her. It’s a testament to Jacobs and the Mickey character that this oversight plays as completely natural, and it almost makes the whole thing work.

But then Gus has to ruin the whole thing again. We’re sold on Mickey being into Gus, despite it falling into the Ugly Guy/Hot Girl trope, but Gus is also getting into threesomes with co-eds and spurring the attention of actresses, which stretches credulity. This trope runs a bit deeper even. Mickey’s roommate, Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), is the best person who ever lived, and is sold as someone people like. But even Bertie, who really is The Best, winds up with a awkward, smiley man-child at the end of the season. Bertie gonna be Bertie I suppose, but it betrays the dark streak hinted in her character in episodes like “Party In The Hills”. The supporting cast as a whole help sell the show, particularly the always reliable Brett Gelman as Mickey’s boss, Iris Apatow as child actress Arya, Chris Witaske as Gus’ toaster-stupified friend, and Jordan Rock as self-aware minority best friend Kevin, but for a ten-episode season the bench doesn’t run especially deep.

I hated a lot of Love, but its hang-out vibe did work and Mickey and Bertie are fantastic (cut out Gus next season and I’m back in). It didn’t hurt to finish the season, but its counterpart Master of None is so clearly superior that its hard to recommend despite its positive qualities. This could be the kind of show that improves in its already-confirmed second season, so I’ll check it out again then depending on the reviews. As it stands, its a fun show to argue about but a bit of nuisance to actually watch.

C+

love-netflix-series-trailer-00

Best Episodes: It Begins, The Date, The Table Read

Love: Season One (2016)
Created by Judd Apatow, Leslie Arfin, and Paul Rust
Starring Gillian Jacobs, Paul Rust, and Claudia O’Doherty
On Netflix

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Netflix’s Love is a complicated portrayal of one unlikable character, and an insipid portrayal of another

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