Have you ever cringed while watching the difficult romantic melodramas of the millennials on Girls and thought, “I’d love to feel this uncomfortable for a whole day, as opposed to just a Sunday night”? Then Netflix’s new 10-episode series Love might just be for you. Created by Judd Apatow, the comedy centers on a relationship between two 30-something basket cases, but you have to sit through a full 40 minutes of their emotional misery before they even meet one another.
Love is the latest reminder that the Netflix model of dropping whole shows at once can lead to stories with a self-indulgent disregard for pacing. Shows like Bloodline and Sense8 had a tremendous amount of dramatic potential, but they wasted hours unpacking the background of their large ensembles rather than getting the plot moving. Love takes that same approach, but applies it to the awkward fumblings between two lost souls in Los Angeles (played by Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust) for a ride that’s initially frustrating, but eventually rewarding. As a rom-com, it’s perhaps a little too light on both the “rom”and the “com.” But like other excellent half-hour dramedies about the pains of growing up and settling down (Girls, You’re the Worst), Love is at its best when it digs deeper into its protagonists’ biggest (and most repelling) flaws.
Love was created by the married couple Lesley Arfin (who wrote for the first season of Girls) and Rust, along with Apatow, who’s long excelled at mixing autobiographical material into his slice-of-life comedies. At its start, both Mickey and Gus (Rust) are in the middle of disintegrating relationships: Mickey with a drunken loser well out of her league, Gus with a long-term partner who unexpectedly and abruptly leaves him.
The show wastes far too much time digging into this history, which could have been packed into a quick overheard conversation. It’s not too hard, in other words, to ascertain that Mickey is overly reliant on mood-altering substances of every kind, and that Gus is pathologically afraid of risk-taking, but the first two extended-length episodes dwell endlessly on those topics without adding the alleviating effects of actual humor. Shows like Girls and You’re the Worst are much more sitcom-inspired, mixing in more madcap comedy and joke-telling to cover for their low-stakes plotting. Love seems much more inspired by weighty dramas, even if it can’t conjure up much on its own.
The show’s first big note doesn’t arrive until the end of the second episode, when after a confrontation with his ex-girlfriend, Gus angrily throws his DVD collection out of Mickey’s moving car one disc at a time—a clean emotional break in the form of symbolically desecrating the memory of every movie he bought and watched with his girlfriend. It’s hilarious, it’s weird, and it mixes the personal with the laugh-out-loud funny. Love is filled with clever little moments like this, but there’s a lot of slower material to endure on the way there.
For the show to work, viewers will have to buy into these characters—which is a challenge since Arfin, Rust, and Apatow aren’t going for instantly likable. Gus is the kind of wimpy nice guy who finds himself being propositioned for a threesome (in the first episode) and can’t help but awkwardly shrug the whole time (he’s like a sort of overgrown Superbad-era Michael Cera who hasn’t learned anything about human interaction in the intervening 15 years). Mickey is so emotionally detached that she basically delivers every line in a monotone while dragging on a joint. (Jacobs’s portrayal of the self-destructive Mickey—a clear analogue for Arfin—is quite the tour de force).
And yet, unlike with lesser shows, Mickey’s addictions aren’t window dressing for her character, but dark issues that the show eventually works through with authenticity and grace. One episode, centered around a long bender she goes on with the comedian Andy Dick (playing himself) is almost harrowing in its honesty, but it’s beautifully realized. It’s moments like these that help justify the more aimless wandering—but Love makes you work to get to them.