There’s a moment in the premiere of Love Is _____ where Angela (Idara Victor) says to her best friend, Nuri (Michele Weaver), about Nuri’s upcoming date with Yasir (Will Catlett), “This is the kind of effort Essence magazine imagines for us!” Angela is downright swoony over the fact that Yasir has tracked down Nuri, a woman he just met, to ensure she’ll join him at a concert.
Indeed, the new OWN series has the view of romance, love and marriage that one can usually find only in magazines, books, TV shows and movies. The grand gestures and romantic declarations might be a bit much, except for the fact that the series is based on the real-life romance of Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, the TV producers and creators behind such groundbreaking shows as Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane and Black Lighting. Here, the producing power couple brings viewers into their lives.
The series begins in the late 1990s, when Nuri is a staff writer on the TV show Marvin (we’ll let you decide if it’s inspired by the FOX comedy Martin, which ran from 1992-1997, but it’s not that hard to connect the dots). She’s just bought her own house and is enjoying the attention of several suitors. “All dry humps and hand jobs take place three days apart,” she tells Angela about her rules of dating.
Aspiring writer/director Yasir is downright dreamy and definitely too good to be true, as he says all the right romantic things and gazes into Nuri’s eyes. Yes, he’s perfect—except for the fact that he’s already living with another woman, unemployed, and down to his last dollar. He relies on his best friend, Sean (Tyrone Brown), for use of everything, from his gym card for showers to his triple AAA card to tow his broken-down car. His quasi-girlfriend, Ruby (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing), kicks him out, saying, “I hope Nuri doesn’t mind that you have a kid, no job and no place to stay.”
Reminiscent of the delightful interviews that pepper When Harry Met Sally, we also get to meet Nuri and Yasir in the present, years into their courtship. As played by Wendy Davis and Clarke Peters, the older versions of these two characters are more confident and more at peace in their lives, but their love and devotion to each other is the same. I love that in the press notes they are referred to as Wiser Nuri and Wiser Yasir, because I believe that is how we all feel as we grow up. I certainly know and understand more about myself and love and work and relationships now than I did in my twenties.
The series has an almost magical view of romance, as Nuri and Yasir are instantly in love. “I love you, too, so let’s cut the bullshit and get on with living this life together,” Yasir tells her on their first date. And there’s lots of fun to be mined from the 1990s setting. Nuri is apoplectic when Angela makes a date with a man she met on the Internet and insists on “bumping into” her on their date. “Everyone is hoping the Internet will give them a fresh start,” Angela tells her.
Kadeem Hardison is clearly enjoying himself as Norman, the demanding showrunner at Marvin. “If all you’re doing is pointing out problems with no solutions, then you’re a critic, not a writer,” he tells Nuri when she questions a plot point. It’s an added bonus that the series offers an inside look at how a TV writers’ room works, and also a glimpse of how challenging it is to be a woman in a male-dominated room.
There’s so much to like about this series that it’s easy to forgive its cheesy dialogue, enchanted take on romance and Catlett’s often wooden delivery. I mean, it’s wonderful if Mara and Salim’s burgeoning romance was this dreamy. The duo has changed television for the better and OWN’s series, which features an all-Black cast, continues to add much-needed diversity to the TV landscape. Yasir and Nuri are both Muslim, which is portrayed the same way it is when a character is Catholic or Jewish—as a part of these characters lives that’s treated with respect, but also just is.
Love Is _____ is simultaneously unique to the experience of being a part of Black Hollywood and also a universal and relatable story of falling and staying in love.
Love is ______ premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on OWN.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .