Netflix is getting deeper into the original programming game, and one of its latest offerings is Love, starring Gillian Jacobs (best known for Community and that awesome stint on Girls) and Paul Rust. It’s a comedy about two single LA denizens who cross paths and enter a slo-mo rom-com minus the formulaic structure. Rust plays Gus, a suddenly single aspiring TV writer who’s stuck as an on-set tutor, opposite Jacobs’ Mickey, a satellite radio program director and bona fide mess.
There actually isn’t much love in Love, and that’s part of what makes it relatable. It has the rom-com charm of people flirting and initially connecting through a shared sense of humor, but the realism of them failing to understand each other further down the line. Written by Rust with wife Lesley Arfin, it’s produced by Judd Apatow and benefits from Apatow’s penchant for letting the air out of his comedy and allowing things to develop more slowly. Here’s a few reasons why it’s worth some of your valuable streaming time:
Love isn’t an especially joke-heavy show, but it wrings humor from seeing its main characters trying and failing to relate to each other, as Gus and Mickey repeatedly make their own lives—and their interactions—more difficult. And slowing the rhythm down helps play out the cringe-y moments that would be otherwise lost in a movie or a show that moves at a network pace. Instead, we can enjoy the slow-motion crash of a bad date when Gus chokes on his dinner and gets Heimliched in a full restaurant, or when Mickey drops acid with Andy Dick and gets lost on the LA subway.
Admittedly, at first I leaned toward disliking this show. The nerdy nice boy who can’t quite capture the attention of the easy-breezy but aloof girl was one I’d already had my fill of—hasn’t Woody Allen already covered that ground? Gus is the kind of dude who can talk his way out of a threesome, the sort who shows up to parties 20 minutes early. Mickey is the kind of woman who convinces everyone to jump in the pool at a party before immediately injuring herself, the kind of woman who gets high before going into her AA meeting.
But as the first season of Love progresses we come to see the darker sides of their personalities, and that’s when the show most captured me. It turns out Gus’s niceness is actually passive aggression, and Mickey’s flakiness is just a cover for her abandonment fears. It turns out Gus isn’t the lowly loser he seemed, that he can actually bag a cheesily boring hot actress, and that Mickey actually deeply needs attention and she can spiral out obsessing about Gus when the energy between them feels weird.
Normally I don’t love shows about shows or Hollywood telling the story of Hollywood, because it too often feels insular and less than relatable. But Gus’s job as an on-set tutor for a fictional drama cheekily named Witchita is just close enough to the action to seem exciting while showing how utterly demoralizing that sort of proximity can have for someone with creative aspirations. Not to mention how much Love’s writers have made Witchita purposely bad. There’s the stilted dialogue, the way all the leads look like carbon copies of a CW show circa 2004, and Witchita’s showrunner Susan Cheryl’s (Tracie Thoms) self congratulatory airs. And Iris Apatow plays Arya, Witchita’s lead and Gus’s main student, as the perfect misunderstood child actor brat managing to be both infuriating and lovable at once.
Speaking of those smaller roles, Love is rife with an outstanding supporting cast. Brett Gelman steps in as Dr. Greg Colter, Mickey’s boss at the radio show, who is the perfect mix of cringe-y inappropriate crush on Mickey with professional therapist who can call her on her shit. Australian comedian Claudia O’Doherty appears as Bertie, Mickey’s sweet, attention-seeking roommate who goes on a date with Gus, and those who grew up on The State will be psyched to see Kerri Kenney as Mickey’s been-there-done-that new mom neighbor, Syd. I was most excited to see Charlyne Yi as Gus’s bestie, Cori, who gets together with Gus and their other friends to write theme songs for movies that don’t have any. Sadly, there’s tragically little of her, and I can only hope that in the show’s second season Cori becomes more prominent.
Love explores the existential crises brought on in your thirties, especially for those who opted out of marrying young and having kids. Whereas one’s twenties are often about playing at adulthood—moving in with a significant other, throwing dinner parties, getting that stable job—the thirties are about discovering that you do not have your emotional shit together. And a heightened version of this is exactly the place Gus and Mickey are in. Sure, they have steady jobs and can easily afford their rent, but their lives are falling apart. And they need only look in the mirror to find the person at fault for it.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Splitsider, Bitch, Rookie Mag and The Hairpin.