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It’s hard to describe what Ida Engvoll does on “Love & Anarchy” as anything other than a magic trick. There’s a moment early in Season 2 of Lisa Langseth’s Netflix series involving a cup of coffee that’s somehow wilder and funnier and more believable than it has any right to be. Part of the thrill of “Love & Anarchy” is that the characters at the heart of it often seem surprised in the same way. Whether it’s a secret kiss, a coworker walking into a meeting in slippers, or a transformative weekend retreat, watching these people continually pinch themselves to remind them that what’s happening in front of them is actually happening is what helps make this show a top-tier Netflix viewing experience.
Sofie (Engvoll) finds herself in plenty of those moments early on in “Love & Anarchy” as the incoming new high-powered consultant at Stockholm-area publishing house Lund & Lagerstedt, a self-contained universe of book-based neuroses and insecurities. Before long, she’s also actively pursuing what begins as a harmless office flirtation with the company’s new young IT temp Max (Björn Mosten). After a compromising after-hours office moment, the pair use a sense of mutually assured destruction as the fuel for an ongoing series of dares that gradually bring them closer together. Each time you think the two of them hit a breaking point in this never-ending game of interoffice challenges delivered via secret notes — be it instructions to walk backwards or make a distinct wardrobe choice — “Love & Anarchy” keeps its foot flooring the gas pedal.
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An immense amount of credit goes to Langseth for getting these characters from Point A to Point Q to Point √26 and have all the steps in between make sense. What she’s especially good at capturing is what makes the foundation for the best romantic comedies: the moments where a character has to decide to commit or back off. That’s the basis for the initial season-long dance as Sofie and Max take turns tiptoeing up to a certain line, carefully hiding their antics from the rest of their coworkers.
In the process, the show doesn’t force Sofie and Max into anything with a particular label, all without artificially prolonging any make-or-break moment. They always seem one step away from making a choice they can’t undo, in whatever direction they happen to be leaning next. “Love & Anarchy” is also conscious of the imbalances at play. Not only is Sofie the boss (a not-insignificant complication on its own), there’s a major gulf between what each of them stand to lose if things implode. Every new escalation of their feelings for each other goes hand in hand with a real sense of danger, even if the show doesn’t always pause to let those potential consequences sink in.
One of the remarkable parts of “Love & Anarchy” is that it doesn’t give Sofie the easy fallback of her job. Not only is Max a constant presence at his desk by the elevators, throwing off even the basic duties as a manager, Sofie’s artistic motivations aren’t always the purest. Like arguably the most well-known publishing exec in pop culture history, her instincts are a little corporate and ruthless. At the end of the day, if her marriage crumbles and family relationship sours and a fling fizzles, “Love & Anarchy” doesn’t even give her righteousness to fall back on. It’s what adds that extra level of risk to each new Max Post-It note and keeps the show from resting easy.
As for the rest of the Lund & Lagerstedt management team, Season 2 takes the broad outline of Sofie and Max’s coworkers and shades them in even further. Friedrich (Reine Brynolfsson), who begins the series as the house’s stodgy old-guard legacy has softened around the edges. The fatally optimistic, upward-failing Ronny (Björn Kjellman) has a little vulnerability to go with the certain biographical detail of his that’s become one of the show’s best running gags. And Denise (Gizem Erdogan), long the competent one saving the company from itself, gets some of her own story away from the office. Toss in the show’s few cameos and name-drops and this could stand on its own as a “Call My Agent” for the book world even if Sofie and Max never stepped through the doors of the office elevator.
Nine out of 10 shows of its kind would pick Caroline (Carla Sehn) — the eager receptionist throwing her own googly eyes around the office — as the main character to follow here. One of the ways that “Love & Anarchy” gets to have it both ways in Season 2 is to keep all the energy it’s generated over the course of those opening episodes and still give Caroline that story, only against a much different backdrop of circumstances.
It’s a rare show that can swing between genuine chaotic playfulness and sincere, tearful emotion as quickly as “Love & Anarchy.” Season 2 tests that ability even further, as things become less about navigating one particular relationship and shift more toward two different kinds of family. There’s Sofie, trying to figure out how the various decisions of her life are either driven by or completely untethered from the people in different generations of her own family. There’s also the greater Lund & Lagerstedt, a dysfunctional group prone to infighting and frustration and mistrust, but still held together by that same indescribable glue that binds coworkers in times of industry-wide turmoil.
That all requires a certain amount of unspoken chemistry. For as much fun as Langseth has in giving all of these characters either flirty or pithy one-liners to layer in amongst all the uncertainty, she also knows when to let two people just look at each other. Whether or not you’re ultimately rooting for Sofie and Max to “work,” “Love & Anarchy” makes it undeniable that there’s at least something there. Engvoll and Mosten deliver two characters who have both a shared history and a shared presence: Put the two of them in the same room and, after two seasons, they almost don’t need to say anything at all.
“Love & Anarchy” Season 2 is now available to stream on Netflix.
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