When the Judd Apatow-produced “Love” premiered on Netflix early last year, its premise was on the verge of sounding generic: A decidedly low-key sitcom with raunchy undertones about a restless white heterosexual couple in Los Angeles. We’ve already seen this kind of a rom-com plot with Apatow’s films “This is 40” and “Knocked Up.” However, instead of fulfilling the tropes of its executive producer or the clichés of its genre, “Love” ended up subverting expectations by taking a more realistic, humanistic approach to its subject matter, which explored modern relationships through the nerdy Gus (Paul Rust, “I Love You Beth Cooper”) and the rebellious Mickey (Gillian Jacobs, “Community”). It also became one of the most authentic depictions of L.A. on television — FX’s “You’re The Worst,” a similarly themed show, is a close second.
Now, in its second season, “Love” still embraces its awkward, cringeworthy humor and naturalistic dialogue, but it continues to develop its protagonists as nuanced characters by placing them in even weirder, funnier and more discomforting scenarios. Even though it fumbles a bit within the first two episodes, “Love” is keen on growing and maturing, effectively distinguishing itself among other new additions of Netflix rom-com shows — Joe Swanberg’s romance anthology “Easy” and Tom Edge’s inventive British sitcom “Lovesick.”
“On Lockdown,” the first episode of the new season, picks up where last season ended, with Gus and Mickey kissing at a gas station after Mickey reveals her intentions to quit dating for awhile. While the season finale may have had a bit of an on-the-nose rom-com ending, “On Lockdown” concerns itself more with the repercussions of Gus and Mickey’s pact to not have sex or date indefinitely.
As much as they liked to be apart, the two end up spending the entire night together due to a series of unfortunate circumstances. Mickey can’t stay at her house because her Australian roommate Bertie (the hysterical Claudia O’Herty, “Trainwreck”) is having sex with Gus’s friend Randy (Mike Mitchell, “Comedy Bang Bang”). Later, Gus and Mickey are stuck at Gus’s apartment complex, where the cops have confined the residents as they lead an investigation of a nearby loose criminal. This situation sounds like an overused rom-com trope at first, but thankfully, “Love” does what it does best by displaying Rust and Jacobs’ surprisingly strong chemistry and their witty banter in order to push the story along. After a hilariously bizarre sequence of Gus and Mickey’s attempt to escape the complex, the two still end up in bed together, but not in the way one would think. This scene contrasts greatly with the previous episode’s final moments with an anti-climax that will either anger or surprise fans, but nevertheless deliver on the promise that “Love” wants to give its characters room to evolve.
However, as seen in the next episode, “Friends Night Out,” Gus and Mickey are still stuck in personal gridlocks, engaged in a sexual and romantic tension that keeps viewers guessing if they can really stay off of each other. This episode, while funnier, more entertaining and revealing than the first one, still showcases “Love” ’s flaws when it puts Gus and Mickey in a very classic sitcom setup. After deciding to spend some time away from one another, they each hang out with their respective friend groups and immediately regret doing so when each situation reminds them of the trials and tribulations of being single.
Gus wants to hang out with his buds at a bar, but becomes unsettled when a group of women decide to join them; Mickey grows distressed as the seventh wheel to the group of married couples she eats dinner with. Considering how the characters have acted in previous episodes, it doesn’t come as surprise that Gus and Mickey are as great together as they are horrible people to everyone else. With his “asshole-disguised-as-nice-guy” demeanor, a withdrawn Gus rebuffs Kali (Tipper Newton, “Southbound”), one of the women who joins his group, mistakenly believing she was flirting with him when she was just trying to be friendly. Seeing all the couples get along, a jealous, detached Mickey stirs up some drama when asking a dirty question of her own during a game of Table Topics. Both leave their respective parties in despair, but as expected, they come together for a dialogue-less final sequence, where Mickey breaks her abstinence and the two have car sex to the apt tune of the Avett Brothers’s “No Hard Feelings.” While it was nice to see Gus and Mickey back together, this ending might have been more rewarding had Gus and Mickey spent more than just one episode without being a romantic couple.
For what it’s worth, “Love” maintains its spot as an underrated, compelling study of romantic relationships in the modern age. It still stumbles at parts and its humor and pacing might not be the most appealing to some. But, like most relationships, “Love” improves over time once you get to know it more.