REVIEW: Gillian Jacobs a glorious trainwreck in Judd Apatow’s millennial romcom ‘Love’
As the pilot of Judd Apatow’s new 10-part sitcom Love opens with two frank and unfiltered sex scenes, we quickly get the picture that the series – co-created by husband-and-wife partnership Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust – will be unflinchingly honest in its exploration of modern relationships. The first sexual encounter we witness is between Paul Rust’s Gus – the submissive on-set tutor of a bratty child star – and his bored, critical girlfriend, while the second is between Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) – an high-enough-functioning addict who works at a radio station – and her waste of space boyfriend who still lives with his parents. Fans of Apatow’s oeuvre will immediately recognise these characters as typical of his almost uncomfortably true to life style, and yes, Love is thoroughly Apatowian in its humour, themes and pacing.
The series is also distinctly ‘Netflix’, as the 40-Year-Old Virgin writer/director’s penchant for loose storytelling and largely improvised dialogue forms a natural partnership with the relative creative freedom offered by the streaming service. As it journeys from lightweight laughs to something deeper, Love manages to find a pleasing middle ground between the smutty and the saccharine. Here’s how the binge-worthy series comfortably joins the ever expanding genre of confessional comedies from the viewpoint of self-obsessed, aimless millennials…
Love starts out with a certain measure of predictability. We knew from the show’s earliest promo stills that the couple to be explored would be Gus and Mickey, so obviously their existing relationships must fall by the wayside, allowing them to awkwardly meet, awkwardly start dating, and haltingly make a go of it in spite of innumerable reasons not to. Yet the series takes its time with this and other elements of the story, and it’s not until the final moments of the pilot that our central duo even meets.
Like a lot of Apatow’s on-screen couples, Gus and Mickey enter each other’s lives when both are at a low point, inviting us to test whether or not two broken people can indeed fix one another. The show is less about what a perfect couple they may or may not eventually make, and more about the anxieties and insecurities of two very relatable characters. Set in front of an L.A. backdrop, small-screen shorthand communicates that we’re supposed to identify with the ‘reality’ of Gus and Mickey in an otherwise phoney environment – they’re the ones toking weed and eating drive-thru burgers while their peers live off kale smoothies and attend nouveau spiritual ceremonies.
In particular, Mickey is the self-destructive, walking disaster of a twenty-something woman whom fans of Girls, Trainwreck and even Jessica Jones should find thoroughly understandable. A character who somehow becomes more hilarious the more dire her situation becomes, Mickey’s desperate need for comfort and stability sees Love take the turn from a one-dimensional ‘will they/won’t they‘ to a more insightful study of the 21st-century psyche. Meanwhile, Rust’s Gus is lovable in his own way, and will surely remind many of a young Woody Allen with his self-deprecating neuroses. His adorkable appearance and skewering of Midwestern niceness perfectly plays off his unexpectedly clanging jokes (“My mom always says I should date a nice midwestern boy because they’re so sweet and honest” / “Yeah? Well you can tell your mom to go f*** herself”), and – shock horror – occasionally self-seeking actions.
Another benefit of Love‘s ambling pace is the screen time it affords such excellent supporting players as Mickey’s over-enthusiastic Australian roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), and Mickey’s boss, radio psychologist Dr. Greg (Brett Gelman), who are characters so well observed and deftly crafted they’re deserving of their own spinoffs. Regrettably, the weakest link in the cast is Apatow’s own daughter Iris, whom many will remember as the irresistibly golden-curled toddler in This Is 40. Ironically now playing an actress – the aforementioned subject of Gus’s acquiescent tutelage – the tween’s awkwardly delivered scenes shift the pace from dawdling to dragging. But which dad wouldn’t exercise similar nepotism in Apatow’s place?
Nevertheless, Love‘s occasional moments of weakness befit its dysfunctional, unfiltered, almost stream-of-consciousness aesthetic. Much like Knocked Up or any of Apatow’s films, its whole shtick is about being honest and real, and at times watching it is like sitting at a table shooting the breeze with our own closest friends, or recounting all the regrettable things we did under the influence at last night’s house party. What more could we ask for from a 30-minute binge series?
All ten episodes of Love will launch exclusively on Netflix tomorrow (February 19th)