Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) are lonely and single in Los Angeles. She’s a program manager at a radio station; he’s a tutor to a 12–year-old actress on a supernatural teen-TV show called Wichita. They meet in their neighborhood convenience store — she’s at the cash register when she realizes she’s out of money, Gus offers to pay. They’re both coming off busted relationships.
They’re ripe for love, right? As the new Netflix comedy Love asserts, however, love is more complicated — more fraught, more dangerous, more ridiculous, more unpredictable — than that. Co-created by Rust, Judd Apatow, and Lesley Arfin, this new 10-part series premiering Friday plays it for laughs, and plays for keeps: It wraps some serious and moving moments into half-hour segments. It’s a show that’s structured like a sitcom but frequently works like a low-stakes drama that just gets more emotionally expensive. After you’ve watched all 10, Love stays with you like a memory you can’t — or don’t want to — shake.
Jacobs gives the show’s most overtly amazing performance — it’s far beyond what she was asked to do on Community, and she’s more than up to the challenge. She’s been terrific in a small role on Girls, in some indie films, and in the slightly underrated Walk of Shame (2014), but Love really allows her to show a range of moods and tones, frequently within a single half-hour, that accumulates to give us a portrait of a woman in command, and in crisis.
Gus and Mickey trade on their superficial appearances and the mannerisms they’ve discovered in their personalities and emphasized to get them through life. Gus is nerdy, eager to laugh and amuse others, instinctively polite and solicitous of others. He dislikes himself for not being more assertive. (He wants to be a writer on the TV show he’s employed by.) Mickey is an extrovert, a quick thinker with a gift for cutting sarcasm; she uses her good looks to be flirty — an expedient strategy to get what she wants, whether it’s a free cup of coffee or sex. She also dislikes herself for this and a whole host of other things — she drinks and smokes dope too much, and tends to self-detonate any relationship she’s in.
It’s easy to see why Gus is attracted to Mickey: The dangerous girl, the unpredictable woman, the intelligent beauty is hard for a recessive personality like Gus — or, who am I kidding, a lot of people, men and women — to resist. Mickey’s attraction to Gus is, like her, more complicated. She’s startled to encounter a nice guy in L.A., where she feels surrounded by skeevy dudes. Gus is nice and thoughtful with her — why not give that novelty a go?
After the first couple of okay-where-is-this-going episodes, I really settled into the groove of Love, and ended up liking it enormously. I loved immersing myself in the show’s Los Angeles, with its sunny outside and dark center core; the way it lures you with its superficial beauty but demands a work ethic that can break weak souls. Love frequently has the tone and comic worry of previous work by Apatow (particularly Undeclared and This Is 40), and you could get a good sense of what this show is about just from the different songs that play over the end credits — Loudon Wainwright III’s “Therapy,” Elvis Costello’s “Lover’s Walk” from his album Trust, etc.
But it’s also easy to see that Rust and Arfin add much of the needed cultural context and oh-those-kids-today feel of the show. Various episodes are directed by John Slattery and Joe Swanberg, among others, and the series never forgets that its first purpose is to keep you involved with the characters.
The ones surrounding Gus and Mickey are often superb. I’m thinking particularly of Claudia O’Doherty as Mickey’s sweet, daffy roommate, who has her own date with Gus that’s one of the series’ high points, and Iris Apatow as the restless, clever, cynical pre-teen star of the supernatural TV show.
I have a feeling some viewers are going to be dismayed at the places Love takes Mickey in the last two episodes of the season (Netflix has already picked up the show for a second). But I thought it was venturesome of the show creators to carry Mickey to an extreme. By the final [REDACTED FOR SPOILER] I was ready to watch another 10 episodes now.
Love begins streaming Feb. 19 on Netflix.