So, instead of following a well-worn narrative trajectory and ending the story, say, when Mickey runs out to kiss Gus after his disastrous date with her roommate, Love’s audience gets to know both characters as they continue to get to know each other. Gus brings to Apatow’s work a level of depth that Apatow has always suggested is there, but isn’t always visible. This is why watching Gus transform, through Mickey’s eyes, from a nice guy to a not-so-nice guy is weirdly a little surprising. By unraveling Gus’s “nice guy” image, Love throws the rest of Apatow’s nice guys, and their other-dimensionality, into relief. Not that we need Love to do this for us. The meaning of the “nice guy” is so culturally loaded and definitionally splintered at this point that calling someone nice is just as often a way of meaning the opposite.
On the Nice Guy spectrum, Gus probably edges closer to “actually nice” than “sociopath,” but that doesn’t make him a good person. He spends much of the series acting deplorably. He cheats on a test for a child actor, just so he can protect his job. He handles Mickey’s request to borrow his jacket on their date at least as poorly as she handles refusing to give it back. He has an ego-fueled conniption in the writer’s room. And, all the while, he has startlingly little self-awareness about his bad behavior. Instead, Gus is obsessed with, and he believes victimized by, what he sees as his defining characteristic: niceness.
“Maybe I’m not nice, you know,” Gus says at one point, before quickly turning what seems for an instant like genuine reflection into a joke. “Like, sometimes, like if a waiter’s like really bad, I’ll just, like, tip them, like, 30 percent, so they go, like, ‘I didn’t deserve this.’”
Gus’s perception of himself as a nice guy—the sense of entitlement he feels as a result, and his resentment toward others for either seeing him that way or not—all lend his character a degree of authenticity that some of Apatow’s other nice guys have lacked. Gus isn’t just bumbling, or lazy, or clueless, or self-centered, or trying to do his best and failing: He’s manipulative. And he might not be redeemable as a result.
“You know I like you,” Gus tells Mickey halfway through the first season. “I’m not just, like, some nice guy ...” He ends this thought with some swearing and a sense of finality. The message is clear: If he can’t get what he wants from her, romantically, it’s not worth his time. Anything less would be an affront to his dignity.
Later, Gus tries to put an end to an argument by repeatedly urging: “Can you be nice? Can you just be nice?” But Mickey is undeterred.
“You’re mean. Do you know that? You’re actually a really mean person,” she tells him. “You pretend to be nice, and that’s worse.”