In love, I’m Paul Rudd eating cupcakes out of the garbage. My failings are not malicious. I was single for a long time. And I’m a writer. And I used to live in the woods. Loneliness and solitude are—were—my jam. I wouldn’t say I’m good at marriage. It’s a process, I keep telling my wife and my therapist, which makes her furious and makes him nod. The love part I’m good at. I think.
I’ve never been very good at moderation, so the advent of streaming media was made for people like me. I am Netflix. My predisposal to binging is indicative of what makes me a less than ideal husband. I’m incapable of diffusing any manner of consumption. I crave excess at the expense of reason or commitment or even Friday night. Let’s watch six hundred and thirty-one minutes of ‘House of Cards’! is not a loving proposition, but to me it’s the very definition of happiness.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between my gluttonous leanings and my marital duty I binged on ‘Love,’ Judd Apatow’s new Netflix series. I was initially apprehensive because—though I like many of the productions that Apatow has been involved in—I was worried Love would be a TV adaption of his bromantic comedies. But ‘Love’’s Gillian Jacobs’ effortless wit and against-type female leads in ‘Community’ and ‘Life Partners’ were outstanding performances, and the supporting cast—Brett Gelman (excellent in the gone too soon ‘Go On’), Kerri Kenney-Silver (reboot ‘Reno 911’ please)—provided hope. I worried about Paul Rust, though I knew very little about him except a faint recollection of hating ‘I Love You, Beth Cooper.’
A show that is about love is an ambitious undertaking. Of course, most shows are about love on some level, except for Chuck Lorre productions. But to be so forward about the intentions of your series’ discussion creates almost impossible expectations. In discussing love, ‘Love’ asks that the audience consider their own experiences with the state. Gourmandizing the series inflates the scope and breadth of that experience, or it did for me anyway. Binging on ‘Love’, whether by accident or by design, was a cathartic and introspective three hundred minutes, which asked me to reevaluate how I have loved or been loved..
‘Love’ is the story of Mickey (Jacobs), a program manager at a satellite radio station, and Gus (Rust), an onset tutor, navigating the peripheries of modern day LA. I didn’t love Rust early on—he seemed too out of place as a lead, my issue not his— but as I ate through the first few episodes, he grew on me. He’s not a typical male lead, but perhaps that’s why he eventually appealed to me. I can identify with someone who’s not the archetype of masculinity, who errs on the side of idiosyncratic, who isn’t the most beautiful of God’s creatures, who dances like a drunken Muppet, who crushes up. But early on he and Jacobs develop a chemistry that seems organic and true, which is absent from most film and TV. And I like that they’re in their 30s, and close in age. I’m sick of leading men who get older while their love interests remain the same age. It’s masturbatory and false and, frankly, tired.
At some point in binging on ‘Love,’ I fell in love with Jacobs. Or maybe I fell in love with Mickey, I’m not sure. Jacobs is brilliant, and she embodies the hesitancy of love. She’s the type of flawed character I adore, the kind I like to write and am drawn to in literature. Mickey wants to be loved, but her manner suggests either she doesn’t believe she deserves it or she’s afraid of it. I think I love Jacobs/Mickey because I’ve lived in that realm myself; I’ve occupied that self-destructive fear of the possibility of happiness.
At the core of any good romcom, or relationship, is a meet cute. To dismiss this trope as simply a tired device of the genre is folly. Mickey and Gus meet cute in a convenience store when Mickey has forgotten her wallet and the chivalric Gus covers her cigarettes and coffee. Meeting cute isn’t an easy plot device but rather a truthful one. Most of us meet our partners cute and it provides a narrative foundation for our lives together, just as it provides narrative foundation for romcoms.
In the meet cute at the end of ‘Love”s pilot, Mickey and Gus are enduring hangovers, one spiritual and the other of spirits. We tend to under-quantify how much alcohol has to do with love. Some would argue it’s more effective than match.com or Tinder. It’s surprising that every beer, bourbon, and hard soda commercial doesn’t promise romantic bliss more explicitly—like: Drink Bulleit Tonight and You’ll Get Married Next June!—because they’re certainly employed as vehicles for love. Love discusses alcohol in these terms, as a facilitator, but also finds Mickey in AA, though she’s less than committed to the process. AA has become a convenient trope of television; ‘Mom,’ ‘Nashville,’ ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Nashville,’ ‘Flaked,’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ are among the series that use the mutual aid fellowship as a plot device. It’s a convenient exploitation; it provides a forum for characters to share, to be vulnerable, to provide drama. But here it becomes evidence of Mickey’s deeper failings, and not of the simplicity of what her addictions reveal about her character.
In their relationship’s infancy, Mickey and Gus get to know each other through conversation on an afternoon trip around LA, reminiscent of ‘Before Sunrise.’ We don’t see the early moments of love revealed so simply—so artfully—very often on television. What ‘Love’ captures with near perfection is the nervous furor of the virginity of companionship hopeful of affection. Mickey and Gus are not in love yet, but you can see the roots of something. We’re nervous with them—for them—as we indulge in the vicariousness of their burgeoning ardor. To witness its slow growth is something special on TV, where series race to establish love and then leave viewers with one hundred episodes of monotonous consummation.
In love and television there’s nothing more tired than the date. I’m not sure I’ve been on a date since I took a girl to see ‘Singles’ in 1992. My wife and I eat dinner together in restaurants, is that a date? But ‘Love’ uses “the date” in a unique and creative way, as a confused Mickey, wary of love, sets Gus up on a date with her roommate Bertie (the beyond excellent Claudia O’Doherty). Mickey participates in the date from hell by texting both Gus and Bertie, manipulating the evening, but ultimately endearing all three to each other. O’Doherty’s Bertie could’ve been a stock character, a wacky roommate, the Aussie sidekick. But instead there’s a truth to her, consistent with the series conceit, a sincerity that comes out as she Skype bakes with her mother or makes lame, nervous jokes. If season two of ‘Love’ gets bored of Mickey and Gus, I’d follow Bertie wherever life, or love, took her.
By episode seven of ‘Love’, Mickey and Gus have consummated their relationship. But they do so before their first date, and then fall awkwardly into a relationship of sorts, but one that’s difficult to watch and disappointing for the lovers. Soon after they become what many of us become in relationships: bored and self-destructive. Mickey’s fatigue and despondency manifest themselves in alcohol; she gets drunk and more awkward. Gus’ manifests in sexual greed; he has an affair with an actress on the TV show he works on.
While at this point in their narrative they’re not quite together, their egos, flaws, and fears convince them to implode. They’re suffering from the realities of post-infatuation. As I watched this I couldn’t help but recall the many, many, many, many times I’ve done this in relationships. It also made me realize how many people I’ve hurt in my self-destructive laziness. Watching it in ‘Love’ is cringe-inducing, in a positive way, in that it is genuine, true, that I understand it because I’ve behaved that way, and in seeing ‘Love’ I feel the shame and guilt I somehow avoided when I committed those crimes of dispassion. Ultimately, Mickey and Gus commit to each other, but in a way that seems perilous and unstable, but isn’t that how we all enter into love? Unsure, unprepared, but hopeful?
‘Love,’ in many ways, is about secondary and tertiary characters. And so is love. Those around us inform our relationships. They filter our emotions, our eccentricities, our fears. ‘Love’ fills around its leads with representations of elements of love. Iris Apatow plays life without sexual love, the wonderment of adolescence, before love confuses and drains. She’s confident, honest, and I trust her performance as a kind of younger version of Mickey from an alternate universe, a child actor who Gus tutors. Her character is a revelation, and may be the best thing about the show, but it is her mother’s (Leslie Mann) comedic timing and wit that shines here. Gelman is Mickey’s boss, with whom she indulges in an affair that confronts the act of love without love, of love as a weapon, and in doing so illuminates many of Mickey’s disturbing fears, fears about love and acceptance and sexuality that we all have. Kenney-Silver plays a future version of Mickey, her neighbor Syd, a woman who has endured love and settled in it. Gus’ apartment is often filled with a ragtag collection of his friends who get together to sing non-existent theme songs to films without theme songs. It’s a representation of the silliness of love, of the kinds of strangeness in us all that a prospective partner needs to accept, or at least tolerate, in order for love to be completely realized.
There’s a true awkwardness to the interactions between characters in ‘Love’ that is absent from these types of romantic narratives. The absence of the time constraints of traditional television promotes the natural, organic feel of the show. And in that manner, the show becomes a living treatise on love itself, and examination of an emotion that is attached to nearly everything on television but rarely with the subtlety and deft touch that Apatow et al. have used in creating the universe of ‘Love’.
There’s a quiet, beautiful moment in Love’s second episode when Bertie and Gus carry a chest-of-drawers into Mickey’s house. The two agree—having just met her—that Mickey is the best. She’s cool, right? So cool. But a little scary, right? She is a bit scary. But so cool. At its best, this is the very essence of love; fear infused with the divine. The same can be said of the series; it excels in moments of simple truth, allowing subtlety to carry the exploration of emotion.
Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others, and contributes to MTV’s PLAY with AJ. He is the author of the poetry collection JACK (Snare Books, 2008) and Bourbon & Eventide (Invisible Publishing, 2014), the short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011), and the co-author of Cheap Throat: The Diary of a Locked-Out Hockey Player (Found Press, 2013). Follow him on Twitter @mdspry.