***Contains mild spoilers for Love***
Calling a relationship comedy ‘Love’ is so on the nose that it had better be ready to woo us with some pretty profound insight into the third-most consuming concept known to humanity. (Without doing any research, I wager money and sex are ahead – perhaps even food.) Judd Apatow and Paul Rust’s new Netflix series of that very name isn’t profound, but then it doesn’t even attempt a sniff in that direction. Instead, we are given a tender story about minor misfits with a surprising lack of cliché. Reader, it’s a treat.
We begin with Gus, a hapless dweeb played by Rust who works on the fringes of television as an onset tutor (no, I didn’t know either). Gus dreams of being a writer on the trash TV show he works on – think Charmed without the charm – but lacks any qualification save a passion for good-bad films. He’s also single following a bad break-up. This guy, as Donald Trump would say, doesn’t know how to win.
But you know what they say, just when you’re not looking for love and you have a hangover and all you want to do is quench your thirst with overpriced energy drinks, that is the time you meet a crazy woman who’s forgotten her purse and you offer pay for her coffee and cigarettes. Tale as old as time.
The crazy woman is Mickey, played by Gillian Jacobs – an old hand at neurotics: from the Britta, the world’s only known lovable hipster, in the eternal Community, to the stone-cold Mimi-Rose in Girls. Apatow, of course, writes for Girls so – again, no research – I assume Jacobs has read lines written by him before but thankfully Mickey, and everything else about this show, couldn’t be further away from the sort of bland psychopath that springs from Lena Dunham’s mind. Mickey is an alcoholic, a sex-and-love addict, and a drug user – though not, I think, an addict; she is unreliable, artless, jaded, and should possibly come with a warning sign, born aloft by cherubim, above her.
On the other hand, she is cool. Thus, even the warning signs anyone could infer from Mickey’s personage are as red rags to a bull for Gus. After numerous false starts they begin dating, and there you have both your story and the beginning of a harried ride.
Jacobs wins best line with ‘Aren’t we all minions?’ – the context of which you’ll really have to discover for yourselves – but the whole script is rather good. There are plenty of playful non sequiturs and outright nonsense, ramblings and rants, splendid swearing and, like the similarly LA-based Transparent, a great deal of spoilt whining and name-checking. Above all, there is a blunt wisdom to some of the characters that takes you by surprise.
Indeed, Love’s main strength is turning viewers’ expectations on their heads. Can you remember the last time TV sex wasn’t depicted as either an awkward embarrassment – for viewers as much as for the participants – or an Olympic-level gymnastics display? (To say nothing of whatever it is they do on Game of Thrones.) Mickey and Gus’s first coupling simply happens, neither disastrous nor ecstatic – nice, that dread adjective, might just be the way to describe it; later, Gus manfully accepts the intervention of a vibrator between the sheets.
And just as we think it is Gus who’s punching above his weight, the story gradually turns the tables to show that it is a fragile Mickey who’s clamoring for attention from Gus, who almost gives the relationship up as a bad job. There are those who might feel the same about the programme itself: the supporting cast of characters, though portrayed well, is a group of largely superfluous sounding boards for the principals. Ten half-hour episodes isn’t a lot of screen time, certainly not enough to provoke interest in a ship of lost Californian souls. But, that aside, it’s certainly a short enough investment for you to have a fling with.
However, it does mean no one has any time for Flaked, another Netflix offering, starring Will Arnett (Arrested Development). This is a depiction of LA life too far, and will leave most people wondering what the hell they are talking about. It’s a poor man’s Californication lacking a David-Duchovny-caliber rakehell to piss on the bonfire of hipster vanities.