‘Love’ triumphs in a shaky but satisfying final season

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 - 3:28pm

Paul Rust in "Love"

Paul Rust in "Love" Buy this photo
Netflix

In season one of Netflix’s “Love,” Gus (Paul Rust, “I Love You Beth Cooper”) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs, “Community”) were just two lost souls who met at a convenience store. In season two, their relationship blossomed from a timid friendship into a passionate and turbulent romance. Now, in its third and final chapter, Gus and Mickey have finally reached the point in their six months of dating that asks a glaring question: Will everything work out? 

While some might take issue with ending a show so soon, “Love” is one of those stories that finds fulfilling closure early on, even with a few imperfections along the way. This season finds creators Rust, Lesley Arfin (“Girls”) and Judd Apatow (“The Disaster Artist”) on their A-game: The writing remains top-notch, the cast is rock solid and the acting is all-around superb. Rust and Jacobs, in particular, continue to deliver searing and heartwarming performances, making the most of their equally flawed and endearing characters.

Gus’s deep-seated anger and Mickey’s self-sabotaging behavior have been explored and depicted in the first two seasons — and they’ve led to some pretty disastrous, cringeworthy consequences. But now, as their romance begins to percolate, Gus and Mickey are given room to fix their messy mistakes, and the outcomes of their conflicts are as sobering as they are immensely gratifying. They don’t actually get into a real fight until the fourth episode, “I’m Sick,” in which Gus misses a fun day with his friends to take care of an ill Mickey. Still, it feels oddly refreshing for a show that revolves all around the frustrations and bitterness that comes with a long-term relationship.

New challenges test Gus and Mickey’s limits as a couple and as people: Gus decides to realize his erotic thriller screenplay, though his ego, temper and ambition threaten to derail the production. Meanwhile, Mickey navigates her sobriety and the burgeoning success of her radio career, but finds difficulty in dodging her impulses to drink and smoke. Other issues abound outside their world as well: Mickey’s Australian roommate, Bertie (the exemplary Claudia O’Doherty, “Trainwreck”), wrestles with leaving her schlubby, doofus boyfriend Randy (Mike Mitchell, “Comedy Bang! Bang!”) for the attentive and affectionate Chris (Chris Witaske, “Lady Bird”). She even gets her own episode — the season’s highlight “Bertie’s Birthday” — which marks a delightful acting showcase for O’Doherty. Seriously, she deserves her own spinoff.    

While the final season tracks the highs and lows of its main characters, “Love” still struggles to mitigate the inconsistency of its peripheral characters, specifically with Randy, Gus’s co-workers and his boss Susan (Tracie Thoms, “The Drowning”) and Mickey’s ex-boss Greg (Brett Gelman, “Stranger Things 2”). With the exception of Randy, who comes off as a well-meaning but bumbling oaf, these other characters are so unrelentingly insufferable, so unnecessarily cruel and so menacingly mean-spirited at times — the worst comes in the rough third episode “Arya and Greg” — that their presence almost ruins the season entirely. What makes “Love” so watchable and nuanced is its emphasis on realism and observational humor, so seeing these bit characters portrayed as cartoonish, loathsome assholes with no real redeemable qualities and no real purpose in driving the plot forward is quite frankly disappointing.

Even so, “Love”’s third season manages to bounce back pretty quickly in the second half, where Gus and Mickey reach an all-time high in their professional lives, but uneasily confront uncomfortable truths and relationship predicaments in their personal lives. The standout “Sarah from College” finds Gus revisiting some skeletons in his closet when he bumps into an old flame at a friend’s wedding (a remarkable, subdued guest performance from Vanessa Bayer, “Saturday Night Live”).

Gus’s past continues to play a role in the uncertainty of his relationship with Mickey when they venture to visit his family in South Dakota, a trip that includes some of the most hilarious and heartbreaking moments in the entire series. In the two episodes preceding the finale, Gus and Mickey offer two phenomenal monologues that feel like a brilliant, almost cathartic culmination of their relationship. The chaotic energy that radiates from their individual inner turmoil during these monologues is like a rocket ship getting ready to launch: The fire is bubbling at the surface, but it doesn’t reach liftoff until enough buttons have been pushed. Despite how ominous that may sound, let’s just say “Love” allows Gus and Mickey space to breathe and collect themselves before they make any major decisions in moving their relationship forward.

“Love” has become more than just a commentary about contemporary dating and modern relationships. It has also become more than just a simple TV romance created by one of Hollywood’s most beguiling and notable rom-com visionaries. “Love” is as unpredictable and exciting, as hilarious and messy as love itself, which is exactly what makes its conclusion so imperfectly perfect.