If you’re a fan of “Girls,” then Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust’s new series, “Love,” is definitely for you. Its premise can be summed up as boy-meets-girl, so similar in tone that it’s as if Hannah and Adam moved to L.A. and found work in the entertainment industry.
Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) are two 30-somethings struggling to act their age. While Mickey yearns for the toxic romances and drug- and alcohol-fueled parties of her 20s, Gus has launched himself into a premature middle age, settling into a bleak condominium full of bearded retirees after the failure of his long-term relationship.
As all TV millennials seem to be, Mickey and Gus are both terrible at their jobs, albeit for different reasons. Mickey spends too much time brooding at her desk at the radio station and manipulating her lovesick boss, who she sleeps with to avoid getting fired. Gus is incapable of disciplining the child actors he teaches on set, so powerless in their presence that they escape with little more than a warning after they send a sexually explicit text message from his phone.
The show is at its best, however, when it abandons the pretense of being “a down-to-earth look at dating” (as IndieRevolver calls it) and delves into the dysfunction of its central characters. Mickey’s plot line is especially poignant: She’s an alcoholic, a drug addict, and a sex and love addict, whose poor taste in men and questionable life choices come from a place of deep insecurity. Her troublesome behaviors—lying, cheating, yelling at gas station cashiers—deconstruct the myth of the “hot girl,” the woman whose baseline beauty is so great that what comes out of her mouth doesn’t matter.
When Mickey turns up at Gus’ workplace unexpectedly to harass him about ignoring her, there’s nothing cute about it. In fact, the scene addresses the tendency of romantic comedies to downplay stalking as mere infatuation, which a recent study from the University of Michigan revealed can cause women to doubt their instincts regarding male aggression.
“This is a problem because research shows that instincts can serve as powerful cues to help keep us safe,” Julia Lippman, the study’s author, explained to The Guardian. “At their core, all these [romantic] films are trading in the ‘love conquers all’ myth. Even though, of course, it doesn’t. Love is great, but so is respect for other people.”
Indeed, the moral of Mickey’s screw-ups is just that: Her affection can’t always make up for the ways in which she’s wronged or disrespected Gus. The same goes for her friendship with her roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), a delightful Australian whose niceness often makes her Mickey’s straight man. Bertie’s naïveté and quirky humor make her one of the highlights of the series; her bumbling attempts to hit on a gay man (“I don’t mind that he had sex with boys!”) and run a focus group for inedible lunch meat are endearing and entirely relatable.
Gus, on the other hand, lacks the complexity that makes Mickey’s tortured persona so appealing. Taken at a face value, he’s an adult man who throws temper tantrums at work and uses the word “emasculating” unironically. He’s afraid of being called “uncool” (“So that’s what I am to you? I’m just this huge fucking dork?” he asks Mickey, in what’s intended to be a moment of pathos) but relishes his status as a “nice guy,” basking in the attention of women who seem hopelessly drawn to his acts of human decency.
Gus’ pairing with Mickey has been criticized as reinforcing the “attractiveness gap,” the idea that an “ugly” man can easily win over a much hotter woman. While actor Paul Rust’s rather enormous nose will grow on you (unlike his character’s casual misogyny), the series does rely on this trope, as do many of Apatow’s movies. But to the shows credit, the gender imbalance works in the female protagonists’ favor: They are not only more attractive, but also more sympathetic and self-aware.
In fact, the majority of the male characters leave much to be desired, from Gus’ nerdy narcissism to Mickey’s friend Andy’s drugged-out weirdness. Perhaps most disappointing, however, is the limited range of Gus’ coworker Kevin (Jordan Rock), whose lines about being “that black friend in every movie who comes on and gives his white friend perfect advice” only make painfully clear how restrictive his role is.
If you’re looking for a groundbreaking ensemble comedy, “Love” does not provide. But it’s funny and at times heartwarming, which ultimately makes it worth the watch.