Endearingly cynical, Netflix’s ‘Love’ is better second time around

Suzanne Hanover/Courtesy
"Love" | Netflix
Grade: B+

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Imperfect characters are endearing, frustrating and polarizing. They’re the folks in television and movies that reflect “us” — those of us who aren’t particularly likeable, are toxic friends or are downright annoying — because they just can’t seem to get life “right.” They make poor decisions, or no decisions at all, and let life happen to them with maddening passivity. Imperfect characters remind us of the friend that doesn’t take their own advice, or remind us of ourselves when we’re the tornadoes fleetingly tearing through the lives of the people around us.

Netflix’s “Love,” created by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust, is filled with imperfect characters. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is a tornado. Gus (Paul Rust) is a tree that lets himself be thrown around, while expecting the tornado to suddenly and calmly change its nature, to dance its way into the frame of his overly idealistic image of romance.

These characters are hard to love because they’re simplifications of irritatingly real people.

Season two of the series, released March 10, begins where the first left off. Mickey tells Gus she needs some time to herself, and in response, he kisses her — thankfully, she calls him out for not getting that she needs space. Soon after, the two decide to be friends while Mickey “figures her shit out.” Obviously, that doesn’t last long because post-sex boundaries are complicated.

At first, in the first season’s fashion, Gus makes an unconscious habit of turning Mickey into his manic-pixie-dream-girl fantasy and seems slightly uncomfortable with her addictions. Mickey tries to figure herself out, but it’s hard to be alone when you don’t like yourself very much — being alone means being confronted with all the ways you want to change.

Apart from the slippery slope of sexually tense friendships, “Love” is preoccupied with much of what makes adulthood scary: dinner parties, having children, working, becoming “boring” — not to mention how inevitable these things feel. Mickey’s struggle with addiction is a study in how people cope, especially in how the characters cope with the things they don’t love about themselves.

A few episodes into the season, a sudden switch happens that makes one wonder if the writers just got tired of having the characters spiral into “bad places” again and again. The first three episodes felt familiar, to the point where the following episode almost felt out of place. Ultimately though, the change is welcome.

The relationship transitions from an uncomfortable friendship to a healthier budding romance. Mickey and Gus’ relationship reflects the ways in which love gives us confidence. It engages with the dualism of being told that we have to be happy by ourselves, but that we also aren’t complete until we find that “special someone.” “Love” speaks to the truth that sometimes it’s good for us to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes. It’s also honest about the anxieties and second guesses that come with dating (re: it’s hard to be vulnerable).

Because of that, it’s easy to see why Mickey is a sex and love addict. Her efforts at self-improvement make us empathize with her and, in a way, check in with ourselves. Gus calls Mickey courageous, and she maintains that even without material vices. It’s important that she stops to ask herself if the decision she’s about to make is a healthy one. Her character grows in a very real and measurable, if humanly inconsistent, way.

“Love” recognizes that addiction is an illness — through Mickey’s ups and downs and the language characters use to talk about addiction and mental health. Mickey isn’t just “better” one day, but she’s also not defined by her past. Gus wants to celebrate Mickey’s progress, which comes across as a constant need to “fix” her. He starts off responding to Mickey’s addiction well, but eventually grates on Mickey with condescension. There’s mutual adjustment, a shared process of figuring out what’s healthy.

The second season of “Love” is more successful in cultivating characters the audience can empathize and identify with. It’s relatable, endearingly imperfect and worth what little investment it requires.

Season two of “Love” is currently streaming on Netflix.

Contact Sophie-Marie Prime at [email protected].