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Netflix's 'Love' is a rom-com for real people

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FEBRUARY 25, 2016

“Hoping for love has fucking ruined my life,” Mickey Dobbs (played by “Community” star Gillian Jacobs) bemoans to a crowd of Los Angeles faux-spiritualists, drunk and high on Ambien, having Ubered to reconnect with her coke-addicted ex-boyfriend only to find he’s now sober and newly devout. By the end of the first episode, it’s perfectly clear that “Love”a new Netflix original 10-episode series released in full Sunday —is no Jennifer Aniston rom-com.

Created by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust, “Love” shines with that recognizable glow of a Judd Apatow comedy. Apatow is a master at positioning his work in place and time. The stories that he and the rest of the creative team developed are relatable both as universal and as only conceivable in 2016 Los Angeles.

The reality of life bogs down both of the romantic leads in “Love” with an unmistakable weight. Mickey and Gus (Paul Rust) have real human baggage. They’re manipulative. They’re riddled with defense mechanisms. They’re as self-absorbed as they are self-defeating. They’re perfect for one another — or maybe they’re not.

The genre-bending defiance of “Love” flips the star-crossed lovers convention on its head. Mickey is an addict in every aspect her life, filling her heart’s bottomless hole with heaps of drugs and men. Gus on the other hand must be the most milquetoast, mild-manneredly manipulative man in television since Walter White in “Breaking Bad” circa season one. Between the immensity of life and the emotional toxicity of the characters at “Love”’s romantic center, it’s unclear that romance is even possible.

In “Love,” Gus and Mickey’s meet-cute isn’t some sort of grand event, some perfect “Romeo and Juliet” locked-eyes bliss fest. They meet at a gas station. It’s the mid-afternoon. Mickey forgot her wallet but demands that the guy at the register let her walk out with her coffee on credit. Gus had just scurried in to take a gulp of Gatorade from the refrigerator aisle. He offers to pay to stop her yelling. She demands that he also buy her a pack of Parliaments. He takes out his wallet, and she storms out before he pulls out a bill. From there, love must surely follow.

Some of the most revelatory writing in “Love” crops up in its natural integration of one of the most banal parts of millennial life: texting. Mickey gets into a fender bender texting and driving and then drives away without exchanging information. Gus and a first date of his are manipulated into doing all sorts of things to one another by a mutual friend over independent texting conversations. Both Mickey and Gus agonize separately over how obscenely difficult it is to just text one another over the course of a day. Not since “House of Cards”’ floating messages has texting been so cleverly integrated into visual storytelling.

While the romantic leads may be the heart of this show’s humor, supporting roles are also rife with comedy gold. Andy Dick shines in his midseason turn as himself, lithely springing from a side-splittingly funny train-ride psychedelic trip to a poignant confessional about sobriety and love. Milana Vayntrub’s Natalie delivers one of the most devastatingly, staggeringly relatable relationship-ending argument openers in the very first episode: “You say ‘I love you’ too much.”

“Love” at its core celebrates being a bad person. More specifically, it glorifies  bad people together. This is not necessarily a new concept in comedy television. Shows like “Arrested Development,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Bojack Horseman” have been critically undermining and redefining the need for characters with moral centers in the last decade. What “Love” asks its audience to do is accept the fundamental flaws in its characters as well as the fact that they are still human beings deserving of love.

“Love” is the rom com for the bad people. “Love,” in its own perfect, unconventional way, asks the cynical, the broken, the tired of the 21st century to try to believe in love again, at least for the duration of its five-hour runtime.

Contact Justin Knight at[email protected].

FEBRUARY 25, 2016