Love and the Overwhelming Whiteness of Judd Apatow’s Work

Comedy Features Judd Apatow
Love and the Overwhelming Whiteness of Judd Apatow’s Work

There’s a lot to love about Love.

The new Netflix comedy from writers/co-creators Paul Rust, Lesley Arfin and Judd Apatow is a terrifically funny series, using well the weird and surprisingly alluring chemistry of its leads (Rust and former Community cast member Gillian Jacobs). The cast is fleshed out with an impressive coterie of comedic talent like Aussie import Claudia O’Doherty, stand-up kings Kyle Kinane and Eddie Pepitone, and improv geniuses like John Ross Bowie, Brett Gelman and Seth Morris.

Even better than the cast is the writing of the show. Love never uses Mickey’s struggles with sobriety for cheap laughs. As much fun as she has in one episode, tripping on sassafras with Andy Dick while on the L.A. subway, in the back of your head—and in the forefront of hers—is the knowledge that she should be in meetings or treatment. And like Girls, another series that Apatow helped shepherd into existence, the show is unabashed in its depiction of female sexual pleasure. Few other TV shows (or non-XXX films, for that matter) would dare let Jacobs act out an orgasm on camera so realistically.

Above all of this, Love joins with Lena Dunham’s series, and shows like You’re The Worst and Casual, in honestly depicting the thrills, sorrows and inanities of modern romance. You have to wince at the honesty of what’s being portrayed because it cuts so close to what has surely happened to you or someone you know.

Unfortunately, another quality that it shares with those other three series is a cast that is overwhelmingly white.

This might not even be worth mentioning were it not for the fact that Apatow’s name is attached so strongly to it. This is a systemic problem in all of his films and TV series. The minority actors employed in his work tend to fall into small supporting roles, usually to offer advice to the white leads. That trope remains with Love. When Rust’s character needs advice about his budding romance with Mickey, he calls on Corie, his Asian-American friend (played by Charlyne Yi), or he hashes it out with Kevin, the African-American who handles the craft services at the TV studio where Gus works (played by Chris Rock’s brother, Jordan). Or when Mickey is worrying over her job, her confidante is a (as far as I can tell) nameless character played by Asian-American comedian Bobby Lee.

The problem is that Apatow doesn’t think that there’s a problem. When people complained about the lily white cast of Girls, he brushed those concerns aside, telling the audience at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012, “The show will be on for a long time, so there’s plenty of time to have every type of person on the show.” To their credit, they did weave in characters played by Natalie Morales, Donald Glover, Jessica Williams and Amir Arison into the fabric of the show, but they don’t stick around for long.

Now, another argument could be made that Rust, Arfin and the rest of the, yes, all-white writing staff on the show are just pulling from personal experiences, so they can’t write to the romantic foibles of folks from other races. And they’ll likely throw in the old standby that they don’t cast a show based on the color of someone’s skin, but based on their abilities as a comic actor.

But it’s long past time to call bullshit on that line of thinking. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re on Netflix, click on over to Master of None. Yes, there are episodes that directly address the problems of stereotyping in show business and Raj’s fears of introducing his parents to his white girlfriend, but nearly every other scene in that series could be recast with white actors and the humor and truth of it would still ring out.

The most frustrating aspect of it all is that Apatow could actually be doing much more to help minority actors and comedians. Every major movie and TV studio would likely kill to have his name attached to a project. And considering his use of folks like Yi, Ansari, Romany Malco and Ken Leung in his work, he knows that talented minorities are out there. Apatow could be the guy to help bring the world the next Mindy Kaling or Issa Rae or Larry Wilmore, but that idea seems to elude him at every turn of his massively successful career.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor toPaste. You can find more of his writing here;.

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