Thursday, March 9, 2017

Not Really Love - The First Season Of Love Does Not Quite Find Its Stride.

The Good: Good performances, Generally interesting characters
The Bad: Very contrived plot and character interactions, So much more dramatic than funny that many of the jokes feel horribly incongruent when they come up
The Basics: The first season of Love illustrates that Judd Apatow and his staff still have something to say . . . but that they do not quite know how to land it.

Well before Judd Apatow made a R-rated comedies commercially viable for the first time in decades, he build a loyal fanbase on television with his show Freaks & Geeks (reviewed here!) and its rework Undeclared. While Apatow has been involved with a few television projects since, shows like Girls (season 1 is reviewed here!) - which Apatow was an executive producer for - did not grab me nearly as much as his early works. So, when Netflix decided to produce a new Apatow production, I had fairly low expectations (Apatow had a great start, made a number of movies that did not grab me, and has not managed to find a groove since that has grabbed me). But, today was a real rough day for me (my beloved Siberian Husky, who has been my steadfast companion for the past five and a half years, had to be euthanized after her kidneys started to fail so she did not suffer) and I was in the mood to laugh. So, I decided to binge watch the first season of Love as I was cocooned for the evening.

The first season of Love is an intentionally tough sell of a television show. Like most of Judd Apatow's works, Love is a dramedy and just around the time I was ready to state that I was not actually enjoying the show, "The Date" (the fifth episode) came up and it transitioned from awkward to actually laugh-out-loud funny. Love Season 1 treads more toward drama than comedy as it pursues a season-long romance arc between two characters who are horribly mismatched, but the obvious subjects of the titular love. Love deliberately captures the awkwardness of an early relationship between two residents of Los Angeles in their early thirties as they struggle to find happiness after a series of horrible attempts at romance.

Mickey Dobbs is in an on-again, off-again relationship with a loser of a guy who goes off pants shopping with his mother rather than satisfying Mickey. Gus works as the set teacher on a genre television show, getting pushed around while trying to teach a reluctant child actress, when his girlfriend whom he recently moved in with, tells him she cheated on him. Gus breaks up with her and moves into an apartment complex where he struggles to make new friendships and develop new relationships while getting over Natalie. One morning, after Gus ends up in an awkward sexual situation, Mickey ends up at a convenience store without money and Gus comes to her aid. Mickey is not keen on just being bailed out, so she has Gus walk with her back to her house to give him the money she owes him. That starts the pair on a journey to find Mickey's wallet, get Gus high, and begin the friendship between the dorky young man and the abrasive young woman.

Gus and Mickey begin an unlikely friendship, which gets off to a slow start as Mickey struggles with her own drinking and drug use and Gus is frustrated when Mickey sets him up on a date with her new housemate. After Gus and Bertie's terrible date, Mickey makes her move, but she finds her old patterns very difficult to change.

Love Season 1 is more like a few random flirtations that lead to the Fundamental Bedrock Of Love. Unfortunately, Love quickly gets into a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation with the concept. Love Season 1 is essentially a tease of "will they or won't they" for the romance between Mickey and Gus. The show is damned because the early references to the lack of reality in romantic comedies and great cinematic romances sets Love up to be unsatisfying if the often-opposite protagonists hook up . . . but also seems to be reflecting the very works that it is criticizing. The show is equally damned because when it seems like it is going in the obvious direction of establishing a romantic relationship between Mickey and Gus and the roadblocks start being thrown up. The show has painfully artificial roadblocks in the form of an Andy Dick guest role that distracts Mickey and a potential workplace romance for Gus. The thing is, Love has reasonable roadblocks in the form of Mickey working to kick her bad habits. Mickey has addictions and is uncertain who she is when she is sober and finding the right balance of trying to find herself and save the relationship she has found herself in and that could be an interesting story for her character and for Judd Apatow to attempt to explore.

The first season of Love struggles to find its balance and because it does not quite find the right narrative balance between creating something original and conforming to the paradigms of the genre, it ends up feeling less satisfying than audacious.

The essential characters in the first season of Love are:

Mickey Dobbs - The program director at a satellite radio station, she is coarse and hard-drinking. She smokes, does pot, and has a number of ex-lovers and a history of infidelity. She takes in Bertie as a roommate after her ex-boyfriend finally permanently moves out. She is briefly rescued by Gus and is able to return the favor shortly thereafter when she helps Gus out when they end up at his ex-girlfriend's house. Soon, the two become friends and Mickey tries to kick her bad habits for Gus,

Gus Cruikshank - A very traditional geek, he is considered "too nice" by Natalie, who maneuvers him into dumping her. He is straightlaced, though when he meets Mickey he starts getting high and loosening up. He starts to open up to Mickey about things he actually likes, like magic. He plays music with his friends, but spends his days being pushed around as the set teacher on Witchita, where he wants to be a writer,

Bertie - An Australian who comes to live with Mickey, she works for a focus group company. She is a nice young woman who is initially charmed by Gus, but discovers quickly that they are not compatible when they go on a date. She has an incredibly good memory,

Dr. Greg - Mickey's boss, a radio talk show host. He is legitimately interested in Mickey and frustrated when she has sex with him only because she believes he is about to fire her. He uses Mickey to fire others, but actually cares about Mickey and wants her to work through her crap before she tanks her new relationship,

and Susan Cheryl - The producer of Witchita, she initially shows disdain for Gus as he tutors Arya. When an actress takes one of Gus's notes, she begins to take notes of his talents.

On the character front, the first season of Love is hampered by an unfortunately common problem. The first thing is that the main characters are all given decent characterization - they each have quirks and preferences - but as a matter of plot, most of them simply go along with the requests of the others. The problem with this conceit is that when the main characters of Love try to articulate their preferences, they tend to completely fall down on being as articulate or compassionate as their characters ought to . . . if they actually have affection for one another. So, when Mickey talks about not liking magic, she is articulate about being willing to go to the magic show, but resenting that Gus wants her to like specific aspects of it. But then, Mickey becomes even more abrasive about it in such a way that she comes across as mean. This guts the reality that the opposite characters might actually be able to develop a viable, strong, relationship.

As for the performances, Judd Apatow utilizes some of his familiar performers for supporting roles - Dave Allen and Charlyne Yi - while giving the leads to new performers. Gillian Jacobs plays Mickey and she seems like she is doing a five-hour Leslie Mann impersonation. Jacobs steps into her own on the performance when she plays Mickey as frustrated. She has good range for her facial expressions, but is most surprising when she plays romantic chemistry opposite Paul Rust. Opposite Rust, Jacobs smiles in a way that seems incredibly organic and real!

Paul Rust hits his one note as Gus. Gus is the archetype of a geek and Rust embodies that incredibly well - more than just with his physique. He mumbles through many of his lines and breaks eye contact a lot. He steps up to make Gus more than just a parody of a geek by playing Gus as assertive at key moments.

Love Season 1 creates a handful of interesting characters, but then uses them in the most contrived way possible . . . undermining the point of the show and the titular emotion.

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Agent Carter - Season 2
Orange Is The New Black - Season 4
The Flash - Season 2
Game Of Thrones - Season 6
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Rick And Morty - Season 2
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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