Love, the romantic comedy starring Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust debuted its third and final season Friday on Netflix. I have some thoughts on the final season — with full spoilers — followed by a conversation with Judd Apatow, who co-created the show with Rust and Lesley Arfin, coming up just as soon as I insist on a mutual breakup…
The first two years of Love often played as the story of a couple who didn’t really belong together. At first, it seemed that Mickey was the problem, with her addictions to sex and alcohol and drugs, and then it seemed like neurotic, temperamental people pleaser Gus was the bigger obstacle to the two of them making it work. And because, as Apatow notes below, the vision for the series involved covering “all the moments that most shows skip over” when dramatizing relationships, there could be periods when even when things were healthy between Mickey and Gus, something felt off because of the amount of time we were lingering on this moment or that.
Season three mostly chronicles a healthy period in the relationship — which itself provides license to focus on some of the show’s funny supporting characters, primarily Claudia O’Doherty’s Bertie — until late in the run when a visit to see Gus’s family in South Dakota seems like the thing that will finally wreck things for good, because Mickey thinks Gus believes she’ll never truly get her act together. Instead, Gus finally acknowledges that he’s been much more screwed up all along, and that honesty’s enough to both bring them back together and inspire them to get married, which they do at the very end of the finale after several fits and starts.
The season, like the rest of the run, is shaggy and occasionally too mortifying to watch scenes in one sitting, but I also felt by the end like Apatow and company had put in the work to make the conclusion of Mickey and Gus’s story feel earned, and not like a happy ending for its own sake. That’s the downside and upside to applying the Breaking Bad-style approach of dramatizing the in-between moments to a romantic comedy, but the payoff ultimately felt worth it.
I spoke with Apatow about the ending — and about the fact that he gets to conclude his shows properly now, when he couldn’t always do that earlier in his career — why a Freaks and Geeks sequel series is unlikely for reasons beyond the logistics of getting everyone back together, and more.
When you and Paul and Lesley first came up with the idea for the show, how long did you think it might run?
I don’t know. I think that we wanted to feel like we covered a major movement in the relationship. But, I don’t think we had a specific vision, or even an end, in mind. We were interested in the idea of showing all the moments that most shows skip over. So if they didn’t talk in between their first and second dates, we would just show all the things that happened when they weren’t talking. If they broke up, we would show what their lives were like during the breakup. Things like that.
When you say you didn’t have an ending in mind, could there have been a version of the show that ended where it didn’t work out?
Oh absolutely. I think we were feeling that out the whole time; that we really tried to follow it organically as we wrote it.
So at what point did you figure out that this would be the final season and that it would end the way that it did?
I’m always nervous when I make a show, and I never want to work on anything where it would end midway through a thought. So before we shot the third season, we talked about a way that the season would have closure that if that was, if that was the final episode that it would make sense and complete our thought. And if we were allowed to pick up and show the next phase that, that would work as well.
So if I’m reading between the lines here, you could have gone on a little bit more, but Netflix was not interested?
Well, obviously we’re not ending our own show. I think that all of these shows, in a sense, are miniseries. There’s no reason any show needs to be 180 episodes, and 36 is a lot of episodes. When we do Crashing, we do eight episodes a season. So if we did four seasons, that would be 32 episodes. That’s a lot of seasons these days. But I think all the paradigms have shifted. Some series like Vice Principals are two seasons and that’s what they’re intended to be. This is the kind of concept that can continue for as long as you wanted to but also end at certain moments and work perfectly. So this felt like a thoughtful, logical way to conclude it and we were happy to be able to complete our story. But, for everything I’ve ever done, I’d always be happy to say, “Well what happened to everybody from Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” I’d like to know. I’m always willing to show the next phase of anything. Each thing you do is different.
I think the world is clamoring for middle-aged Bill Haverchuck series.
Exactly. I think this is part of what’s happening in television now, which is the length of time a series is on the air used to be based on getting to 100 episodes and getting to syndication so that all the people who worked on the show and the producers and the production company would get rich. But syndication doesn’t really exist anymore for most television. Now we’re all deciding, “How long is this? How many episodes do you need to tell the story properly?” As much as I would’ve loved to have done a lot of episodes of Freaks and Geeks, there’s an argument to be made that it was the perfect amount of time to tell that story without it running out of gas and getting weird because you were stretching the premise beyond the amount of ideas you had. And that’s why you’re seeing a lot of shows end not in five or six seasons, but some at two, some at four, some at three, and I think that’s gonna be the future of streaming television.
This is pie in the sky, but with all of these reboots and revivals being done now, if someone came to you and Paul [Feig] with an obscene amount of money and you were able to gather together enough of the actors, is that something you would ever be interested in revisiting?
I only think we would ever be interested in revisiting it because we had an idea that we thought was as strong as the original idea. I don’t think there is a number that would make us do it as a cash grab. But if Paul Feig woke up in the middle of night and said “I’ve figured it out,” then something like that becomes real. I don’t believe that has ever been his intention. We always felt like we ended on an oddly perfect, magical note. And most of the ideas that Paul wanted to express, he got to express. You know, we were compressed in Freaks and Geeks because we thought we were gonna get canceled at any moment. So we used most of our great ideas. The next phase of the show would’ve been all of the geeks suddenly being six feet tall and how that would change their relationships. And so it probably would’ve ruined the show anyways.
Back to Love, when did you realize, “This is going to work out and we’re going to end with them getting married on the beach”?
I think that was always an open question up until we started shooting. We debated it and we ultimately thought that they were impulsive people and they had a very strong connection. And the ending of the series would be similar to the first series, which is they take big leaps and they’re passionate with each other. They love each other and they have a lot of problems, and this seems to be what this couple would do. They would just jump into the next phase and throw caution to the wind.
You dropped suggestions at different points of the series that they are not always healthy for one another. The whole series takes place over the course of less than a year. Do you think it’s a good idea for these two to be getting married at this moment in their lives that they are?
I think that we’ve seen every version of how couples approach marriage. Some people take 14 years to do it, some people do it in two weeks. And I can’t say the math shows that one way makes more sense than another. Relationships are always about being with another person. Problems arise, your flaws are slowly revealed, and are you healthy enough to help each other evolve? And one would hope that, that’s what their relationship will be. We did want to create a couple that had a lot of problems and histories which would make them have all sorts of challenges. But they are slowly getting healthier. Hopefully their healthy enough that the relationship will last.
In the first season, they’re apart and then together and apart. The second season there’s a lot of bad stuff going on between them. This year, for the most part before the fight they have near the end, it’s a pretty healthy phase of their relationship. What was it like writing 12 episodes about a couple who are mostly getting along?
It was fun. Before the beginning of the third season, we wanted to show them beginning to calm down and what would happen as their relationship got deeper. We also made an effort to make this season funnier. The main aspect of the show that we were most focused on was that it’s truthful. We want all of it to be real and we challenged ourselves to do that and pick up the comedy another notch for a bunch of the episodes, not all of the episodes. And that was really fun for us, because our cast is so strong. And some of them are the funniest people I’ve ever seen, so we wanted to give them more opportunities.
Things turn out not only for them couple-wise, but also professionally. Gus, after screwing up every opportunity he’s ever had, gets a staff job and there’s a suggestion that he may finally be mature enough to do it. And things are working out in Mickey’s career. How did you decide to give them a happy ending all-around?
I think that we thought they were heading into a phase of their life, their lives, where things are beginning to fall into place. Mickey is someone that resisted having a normal job. She never seems to commit to a career goal. And slowly she realizes that she is good at what she does, and that troubles her on some level. And she has to accept that she enjoys her job and excels at it and not to be some rebel who thinks that it’s all bullshit. She figures out how talented she is at what she does. And for Gus, he’s someone that has always been talented and has always wanted to succeed badly but kept screwing up. And his emotions kept sabotaging his potential for success. But our idea was that someone who is talented, ultimately it will get discovered if you’re in that world. I’ve had that happen in shows where somebody who is on the staff or a production person suddenly reveals that side and it becomes undeniable.
The moment when you know that the relationship is gonna be okay involves Gus finally confessing all of the stuff he does and confronting his many issues. And Mickey’s just there to listen and appreciate the fact that he’s finally opening up and admitting this to others and to himself. Obviously, she had a lot of things that she had to learn too, but at that stage of the show she was mostly okay. Did you feel that ultimately that he had more to learn than she did?
I think that’s part of what we were trying to do. It’s so easy to see her as the fuck-up with all the problems, and then you realize that he has found a way to mask his problems better. You know, he’s just as wounded, he’s struggling, but he’s not addicted to drugs or sex. He’s people pleasing and wearing masks and trying to look like a good guy when in fact he’s filled with rage and frustration and wounds of his own. And a lot of this season was about him dealing with her suddenly becoming much healthier and doing better at work and how that made him feel. He no longer tends to be the one who is the healthy one in the relationship.
Finally, you went through this period where you were making shows and you didn’t know when they would be canceled. With several of your recent shows, even if the timing wasn’t always what you wanted it to be, you got to make a very definitive ending to them. How does it feel to have that ability now versus the scrambling you had to do back in the early ‘00s?
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than when a show ends without a thoughtful conclusion. I hate that Undeclared just suddenly stops and there’s no idea about where we leave them. With Freaks and Geeks, we shot the ending several episodes before the other episodes were shot because we were so nervous that they would suddenly cancel us and we wouldn’t have a final episode. So I’m much happier in a world where you’re collaborating with your studio and your streaming service, and you are talking about how you want to conclude a series. That’s much healthier to me. It shows a lot of respect for the audience and shows respect for the show itself, and the creators, to allow them to do that. There’s so many shows I’ve watched recently that suddenly end and I really find it heartbreaking. I’ll be following a show and after two seasons they’re just gone and you know they set up all these great ideas but they never got to follow through on them.
So we’re really happy that we were able to write this as a 36-episode story. That’s a lot of time to say a lot of things and we had the best time with such a great group of people. Everybody was fun and hilarious. It really was the perfect experience. And we’re all sad to not be together, to be doing it, but we feel really good about what we’ve done.
What did everybody else think of the ending?