If creator/director Joe Swanberg set out to prove anything with his new Netflix series, it’s that, despite the show’s title, relationships are never easy. Sporting an A-list cast that includes the likes of Orlando Bloom, Marc Maron, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Dave Franco, the eight-episode series dives into the joys, triumphs, betrayals and disappointments of love by following different people in different stages of romance.
From a married couple trying to spice up their 19-year relationship to a woman forcing herself to become a vegan in order to impress the girl she hooked up with the night before, Swanberg seems interested in giving us a raw, unfiltered and consequently honest portrayal of what love looks like in the 21st century. There are threesomes initiated through Tinder, stay-at-home dads worrying over emasculating sex studies, couples breaking up in order to pursue careers and staying together in order to preserve families.
Swanberg’s dialogue and directing help capture the complexity of modern relationships. He’s more interested in illustrating this than having characters declare their every thought and feeling. The conclusion of the series’ first episode is a perfect example.
After a career-driven mom (Elizabeth Reaser) and her stay-at-home husband (Orange is the New Black star Michael Chernus ) attend a party where the issue of masculinity is brought up — a study about women finding men less attractive if they aren’t the breadwinners in the family is a topic of hot contention — both parties feel the pressure to reinvigorate their sex lives. Awkward attempts at role-playing are thwarted by their two children, and it seems easier (and perhaps more convenient) for them to pleasure themselves than each other. After a rather disappointing sexual encounter — for the mom of course — Reaser’s character wakes up early the next morning to make breakfast for the family. When her partner swaggers downstairs, apparently proud of last night’s performance, she encourages him, puffing up his ego though it’s clear there’s something more to be desired on her end. The look she gives her husband as he plays with their two children at the breakfast table is one probably given by wives millions of times before — she’s unhappy but willing to sacrifice something of herself in order to give more to her family. She doesn’t say it, but you see it, and it’s that element of the episode (and the show in general) that makes Easy so interesting. It’s the things left unsaid that prove the most powerful.
Some episodes are stronger than others. Swanberg delves into various kinds of relationships: married couples, lovers, friends, exes and family dynamics. He excels when focusing on the romance — a couple moving into their new home only to be revisited by the woman’s ex-boyfriend; another pair interested in trying a threesome with a friend. The season’s second episode stands out for not only portraying an honest, authentic look at lesbian relationships but including female-heavy sex scenes that don’t pander to the male gaze. But the episodes that focus on family relationships — specifically ones starring Franco as one-half of a sibling run brewery business — struggle to grab at anything substantial.
Easy is a different but welcome look for Netflix. The show isn’t as interested in providing lessons or understanding from its sometimes disastrous love affairs and muddled romances as it is in just observing them. Most often, episodes end ambiguously. There’s no tidy bow to wrap things up or period to end the sentence. Sometimes, the fallout of bad decisions, betrayals and breakups isn’t even addressed at all. That might frustrate some who like their TV shows to come with a side of morality — Who was right? Who was wrong? Where do they go from here? — but it’s that quality that makes the show so appealing.
Life, like love, rarely has a neat ending and Swanberg isn’t concerned with providing one here. Instead, he’s letting the audience be the judge, to interpret the measuring looks, sly glances, breathless pauses and heavy sighs as you like while his characters move forward. It’s a brave, refreshing take on “Millennial” romance and love in this new age — when gender roles are being reversed and technology continues to dominate our lives — one all the more satisfying because it refuses to sacrifice quality for comfort or something worth talking about for something easy.