Love wants you to know that romantic comedies are bullsh*t. Pretty Woman lied to you. When Harry Met Sally lied to you. The airbrushed image of a beautiful couple finding love and success in giant apartments that you’ve been spoonfed since birth set you on an impossible quest to find your one true love, leaving you burnt out with ruined expectations instead. Judd Apatow, Paul Rust and Lesley Arfin have created a new comedy for Netflix about chronic screw-ups who want love too, but can’t seem to get out of their own way to find it. Which is fine, except that there’s a whole host of other comedies out there that are doing the same thing, except better.
Gus (Rust) just got dumped. An awkward on-set tutor whose girlfriend left him for being “too nice,” he finds himself living in a pre-furnished apartment, completely dissatisfied with the way his life is shaping up to be. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs, in an expectedly strong performance) is a stoner who’s finally broken up with her loser boyfriend (Kyle Kinane) and is struggling to find real love in L.A. and any small bit of fulfillment in her crappy job. After a night out with her ex at a New Age church while on Ambien, Mickey loses her wallet, leading to a not-so-cute meet cute with Gus at the end of episode one. This leads to the grungy, hipster version of Before Sunrise, which is more charming than it sounds. However, if you’re going to make a show about miserable people, you have to say a little more than “Hollywood love isn’t real. I’ll show you real.”
A common complaint about Apatow’s films is that they are almost always too long. Love is not going to change anyone’s mind about that. It’s a very slow burn of a show, taking quite a lot of time (maybe too much?) setting up our leads and the cast of weirdos in their orbit. Like Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen’s bickering in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and John Cena’s quest to find his Crossfit Queen in Trainwreck, sometimes Apatow’s bit players feel more interesting than the leads themselves. Mickey’s perky Australian roommate (Claudia O’Doherty) and her unstable boss (Brett Gelman) are standouts, and Apatow’s daughter, Iris, is also quite good as the bratty child actress whom Gus tutors. Still, this long haul style does suit the Netflix platform, catering well to the binge-watching crowd. On a traditional week by week format, the pace would be interminable, but viewers will probably pop off Love three or four episodes at a time. There aren’t any uninteresting pieces at play, it just takes a long time for the puzzle to start to look like anything worth exploring.
The biggest problem with Love is going to be comparison. It feels like You’re The Worst Lite: Our protagonists aren’t quite as horrible, but they aren’t as intriguing either. Apatow and Arfin have both done their time behind the scenes on Girls as well, and while the show has slid from relevance later seasons, it was fresh once upon time. Other streaming shows like Master of None and Casual also come to mind, but both have managed to find ways to feel unique, either through their themes or stylistic choices. Love just feels oddly safe.
That’s not to say it’s a bad show, just one that will likely leave you wishing it was better. Its first three episodes — as far as I got before deadline — are a show still trying to find its voice. Mickey is just the latest wild child who will show the nerd how to live, while Gus just might help our drug-addled heroine grow up a little bit. There are enough good bits to keep it interesting, but just because the show feels more believable than the than the romantic comedies that it eschews doesn’t automatically make it more compelling.