A heart-shaped box of Russell Stover’s chocolates is a dangerous thing. Some items lurking in the packaging are delicious. Some are fine. Some are so appalling you consider spitting them out in public. You’ll experience a similar assortment of emotions when you binge through Amazon Prime’s upcoming Modern Love, a series bursting with love and celebrities. Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Ed Sheeran (yes, that Ed Sherran), and Fleabag’’s Hot Priest (Andrew Scott) all appear, along with a dozen other famous faces.
Mercifully, no episode of the romance anthology, premiering Friday, October 18, is as terrible as any strawberry cream candy. Instead, Modern Love is, on average, as good as caramel crunch — if not better.
The eight-episode streaming show is an adaptation of the New York Times’ iconic “Modern Love” column, which has run since 2004. That explains why Amazon’s Modern Love takes place in a hazy mid-aughts milieu where cell phones exist but don’t rule people’s lives, no one brings up swipe-right dating apps, and Facebook notifications are a desire instead of a punchline. Rather than grapple with the difficulties of modern, modern dating, the anthology is a warm blanket of Obama-era optimism.
Since Modern Love is so focused on some form of comfort, whether that be in the arms of another or through a brisk downtown bike ride, that you may follow your heart when choosing an episode. This is a true anthology series, so each half-hour-ish episode is a contained little story. Personally, I first threw myself into the Andrew Scott-led “Hers Was A World Of One,” which co-stars Brandon Kyle Goodman and Thoroughbreds’ Olivia Cooke. It’s an installment involving queer love, a nearly infuriating woman, and very cute dogs — aka a complete delight.
However, “World of One” will also leave you reaching for the tissues during its momentous final act. Anne Hathaway’s “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am,” which gives viewers a fearless look at dating with bipolar disorder, will likely shatter you multiple times. Dev Patel as the most perfect New York boyfriend in “When Cupid Is A Prying Journalist” is so good, his character will warm even the iciest heart. Most episodes are built for tears (the happy kind, the sad kind, or both), which is why Modern Love will be unable to outrun comparisons to television’s greatest highwire tear-jerker, This Is Us. Both series are fixated on the tiny ways human connection, above all else, can save us.
Modern Love goes about that aim very differently than NBC’s family drama blockbuster. This Is Us has an obsessive working class streak running through its teary DNA. Modern Love, on the other hand, luxuriates in beautifully appointed apartments and the kinds of sleek lives that usually hide universal issues such as relationship decay and surprise pregnancies. Even when Modern Love gets painfully serious — as it does in stand-out episodes like “World of One,” “Take Me,” and Cristin Milioti-starring premiere “When the Doorman Is Your Main Man” — it would rather have that conversation in a beautiful brownstone than dilapidated public housing. In fact, the latter kind of residence doesn’t exist in Modern Love‘s New York.
The West Elm-y glow of the series can usually lull you into a sense of warm complacency. That is, until you arrive at “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?,” starring newly-minted Emmy winner Julia Garner and Homecoming’s Shea Whigham.
As the title suggests, “Dad” follows a young woman as she falls into a complicated relationship with a father-like figure. Specifically, a powerful older man in her workplace. In a post-#MeToo society, it is already doubtful viewers are clamoring to see that story brought to life through a multi-million-dollar production. That fact that “Dad’s” Amazon-penned summary involves the words “daddy issues” only makes the narrative more cringeworthy. Unfortunately, the Garner vehicle never feels like it’s running on all cylinders. Instead, the episodes comes off as a flimsy best case scenario in a deeply terrible and unsettling series of events.
At least Shameless’ Emmy Rossum, who directs the installment, uses “Dad” to prove she can excel at suffocatingly good close-ups that filtering two complex emotional perspectives into one frame.
Take a bite out of Modern Love. All you have to do is eat around the metaphorical pieces of stray coconut.
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