Most TV shows that face the subject of love head-on tend to take a formulaic route: boy-meets-girl premise, simplistic supporting characters, romantic setting, some sort of conflict and resolution, etc. It’s a rather broad and touchy topic that has been recycled over and over again for years in pop culture. But who says love doesn’t still contain some artistic merit? For Netflix’s newest original series, “Love,” all those clichés about love, romance and relationships are thrown out the window for a practical, grounded perspective on every aspect of the show’s namesake.
Despite its grating, generic-sounding name, “Love” is a down-to-earth, charming comedy bolstered by strong writing, two standout leads and a stinging sense of realism. Set in L.A. (my hometown), the story follows two thirty-somethings, the socially awkward Gus (Paul Rust, “I Love You Beth Cooper”) and the aimless Mickey (Gillian Jacobs, “Life Partners”), and their developing relationship from strangers to friends to possibly more than friends. Through awkward dates, revealing confrontations between exes and other romantic and sexual misadventures, Gus and Mickey successfully and hilariously guide the show’s exploration of relationships and male and female outlooks on modern love.
Executive-produced by “Trainwreck” and “Knocked Up” director Judd Apatow, “Love” is exactly what you would expect from an Apatow production: risqué and vulgar, yet full of poignancy and heart. It isn’t always laugh-out-loud funny, but for those who enjoy observational humor within the underpinnings of day-to-day conversations or physical cringe comedy, “Love” is the perfect show to watch. With a UCB pedigree, Rust masterfully embodies the nerdy Midwestern nice guy archetype as Gus, but his character’s deep-seated aggression and disappointment with life’s constant downfalls elevates Rust’s acting. Having been on six seasons of the NBC-turned-Yahoo! cult hit “Community,” Jacobs effortlessly delivers as Mickey, transcending the well-worn high-functioning alcoholic archetype through a subversive, passionate performance.
Though its first season is only 10 episodes, “Love” is steadily paced, the characters and plotlines unraveling gradually with each episode (Mickey and Gus don’t even meet until the end of the first episode). One of “Love” ’s greatest strengths is making sharp examinations on the ecstatic highs and destructive lows of human interaction through its protagonists’ points of view. The third episode, “Tested,” finds Gus having trouble with his job as an on-set teacher tutor for a bratty young TV actress (Iris Apatow, “This is 40”), while Mickey has sex with her boss, radio host Dr. Greg Colter (Brett Gelman, “Another Period”), to avoid getting fired. “Party in the Hills” depicts Gus and Mickey having different experiences at the same party, with Gus spontaneously jamming out with a few hipster dads to Paul McCartney and Wings’s “Jet,” while Mickey tackles an uncomfortable situation with two former beaus (stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane and Rich Sommer, “Mad Men”). In “The Date,” Mickey stays home and does whatever she can to avoid drinking again after going sober, while Gus and Mickey’s perky Aussie roommate Bertie (the winning Claudia O’Doherty, “Trainwreck”) go out on a date that twists and turns into an unexpected outcome.
In addition to a tongue-in-cheek title sequence and an eclectic soundtrack that includes Queen, Jamie xx, Diane Coffee and Biz Markie, “Love” is stylistically on-point. As a native of Los Angeles, I can definitely say that the cinematography in “Love” does a fantastic job of encapsulating both the beauty and energizing nightlife of the city, from the hipster-friendliness of Echo Park to the laid-back hive of Silver Lake. It’s typical to just display West Hollywood or Beverly Hills, but “Love” unearths some hidden spots in the L.A. backdrop, which only adds to the visual and emotional experience of watching the show.
“Love” isn’t necessarily about falling in love or finding love, but about human connection and interaction in the realest, rawest sense. The show doesn’t romanticize or glamorize love; it simply shows the complicated, troubled and occasionally amusing nature intertwined within the context of love, whether it’s dealing with a breakup from a long-term relationship, a toxic attachment to an old lover or throwing out a collection of Blu-Ray DVDs to signify the media’s distorted idea of what love really is.