When I finished the tenth episode of Judd Apatow’s Netflix serial rom-com “Love,” I physically slapped my laptop like it was a human being and yelled, “Are you kidding me with this bullshit?” I don’t usually act like this while watching television shows; I’m generally kind and gentle with my computer. “Love” was so offensively, irredeemably terrible that I was angry enough to uncharacteristically hit my laptop — and I hit it hard. That’s how bad it was.
Apatow created “Love” with writers Leslie Arfin and Paul Rust (Rust also stars in the show). Arfin and Rust are a couple in real-life; I can only hope, for their sake, that their actual relationship doesn’t remotely resemble the one they wrote for the screen. Rust plays opposite Gillian Jacobs — a person I just assumed would pick good projects for herself after starring in the near-perfect TV satire “Community.” I guess she must have been duped like I was when she saw Apatow’s name on the project — his previous television forays (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Undeclared,” and more recently “Girls”) have been charming, weird, and funny without being jokey. “Love,” on the other hand was, at best, watchable; but it was mostly depressing, unbelievable, and offensive.
It seems that the idea behind “Love” was to create a ‘90s-era romantic comedy (“When Harry Met Sally” comes to mind) that would be able to expand inside the binge-watching Netflix television genre. Also, this story would take place not in the ‘90s, but in the present! “Love” is filled with texting, talking about texting, emojis, and smartphones losing service in underground tunnels. Maybe “Love” is another nail in the coffin of romantic comedies; they’ve performed terribly in the box office for the past five years. To set an outdated relationship model inside an intentionally modern America is at once hard to believe and a missed opportunity.
My major complaint about “Love,” though, is that it is pure fantasy in all the worst ways: It’s a wet dream for guys society has deemed “losers” (the unemployed, the addicted, the nerdy, the overly cautious), placing them inside a world of exclusively beautiful women who are chomping at the bit to sleep with them. I’m all for storylines that allow women to be shallow, mean, egotistical, and complicated (Jacobs’ character Mickey is, indeed, all of those things); my problem is that the women in “Love” are punished for their shortcomings, while the men are not only forgiven, but celebrated.
Our hero Gus (Rust) breaks up with his girlfriend in the first episode when she tells him that she has been sleeping with someone else. However, it’s later revealed that she never cheated on him; she simply didn’t know how else she could end the relationship. When Gus and Mickey accidentally turn up at her house (Gus, high, has given Mickey the wrong address) she tells him, “I said that this isn’t working, I said that I don’t want to be in this anymore, and you would just hold me and tell me we would figure it out.” When he counters that he was only being thoughtful and kind, she says, “When one person wants out and the other person is forcing them to stay there, then your niceness becomes an assault.” And that’s true. But we’re supposed to see this ex-girlfriend character as irrational and uptight. Gus calls her a bitch and drives off to rant at Mickey about their break-up.
And what does Mickey do? Well, Gus is a little bit high, and a little bit depressed, so Mickey drives him back to his house, carries his boxes in for him (did I mention that she was the one who went into the ex’s house to get the boxes while Gus argued outside?), and tucks him in. She spends the bulk of the episode helping carry his emotional weight, and then tucks him in so he can drift off to sleep.
The show goes on, and there are misadventures and missteps; eventually, Gus tells Mickey he likes her (the best thing he does over the course of the entire series — and really the only time he honestly communicates with her), and they start to date. Gus takes Mickey out for dinner and points out to her that his only reason for ordering the dish he ordered is because he knows she likes the sauce on it. We are supposed to think this is nice, and that Mickey is dating a nice guy for a change, and that she should cherish this nice, sauce-giving guy for the rest of her life. If I had been in Mickey’s shoes, I’d have thought, “Order what you want to order; please don’t put me in the position of being ingratiated to you.” But that’s just me.
Then he takes her to a magic show, which Mickey is skeptical about. She doesn’t really like magic, she says. At the magic show, Mickey asks to borrow Gus’ coat, but Gus is reluctant because “they have a very strict dress code.” He eventually relents, but, unsurprisingly, the security guards come to kick the pair out when they see that Gus isn’t wearing a jacket at the show. Gus is pissed; Mickey is too. She doesn’t like rules that seem to be there for no reason; she doesn’t understand why all the magicians are men or why all the women are wearing such tight dresses; she tried to get into the date, but Gus wasn’t into the same things that she was. All valid points. And yet, still, Mickey is the one who is supposed to apologize.
Which she does. Mickey apologizes and apologizes and apologizes in every remaining episode. She’s a recovering addict who falls off the wagon a few times over the course of the series, but she makes a pretty diligent effort to clean herself up: She goes to AA meetings and calls her sponsor when she feels like drinking. Gus, on the other hand, never apologizes. Not for taking her to a sexist magic show; not for blowing her off the next day; and not for flirting and then sleeping with a hot blonde he works with.
I’m fine with non-monogamous relationships; I wish there was a television series (besides “Big Love”) that accurately depicted them. But this is not that. Gus sneaks around, lying to Mickey and lying to the hot blonde about his intentions. He refuses to communicate. He takes what is most convenient or immediately interesting to him, and shows no regard for anyone else in his life. If Mickey has to apologize for her behavior, then Gus should have to apologize, too.
And just a word on the casting here: Every woman with a speaking role in this series is conventionally attractive. Gus (skinny, big-nosed, openly nerdy, awkward in public) somehow manages to attract three thin, blonde women over the course of three days; they all look like they walked out of a magazine. Mickey’s ex-boyfriends are overweight, balding, and generally meritless. She is furthermore punished again and again for her sexuality (she sleeps with her boss — who openly sexually harasses her at work — to avoid getting fired, and is then berated and shamed repeatedly for doing so). Ultimately, she goes to a (ridiculous) meeting for “sex addicts” — a term that I struggle with in general, and one that implies that Mickey’s interest in sex is a major problem.
The best part of “Love” is the wonderful and charming Claudia O’Doherty, who plays Mickey’s Australian roommate Bertie. Bertie is a little clueless, but she’s funny and happy and ushers in most of the laughs the script (very) occasionally merits. Bertie is just getting to know Los Angeles, and wants to have a good time. She’s beautiful, kind, and thoughtful. So I guess it makes sense that she ends up sort of dating one of Gus’ overweight, unemployed friends who is into “really spicy food,” and that’s pretty much all.
If you’re wondering if there are any people of color on this show, the answer is yes: The producer/ director of the TV show Gus works on is played by Tracie Thoms, and is portrayed as unlikable beyond novelty. Her character’s nephew Kevin works on the show, and sometimes talks to Gus about his love life. Gus’ friends, who like to gather and write theme songs for movies that don’t have them already, are the bro-iest, most unmemorable white males you could imagine; except a girl named Cory (Charlyne Yi) is apparently dating one of them, and there’s a black girl who also shows up and doesn’t say much. Both girls look so tacked-on that you can’t help wondering what in the real world would ever compel them to hang out with these generic losers.
There are so many other things I hated about “Love” that I could fill a book. It went far beyond being a disappointment; it made me feel sad about humanity. There aren’t really any laugh-out-loud moments, either; there are, instead, parts where you feel so uncomfortable watching the characters flail about in social situations that you take out your phone to play Candy Crush in order to avoid having to look at them. There are tons of nature documentaries on Netflix that are way more romantic (and funny) than this entire series. I suggest watching one of those instead.