Before Season 2 of Love, catch up with our spoiler-filled review of Season 1. Not seen Love? Our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes is here.
“Did he ask you out?” “No, it’s worse. He likes me.” Those were the words that marked the start of Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey’s (Gillian Jacob) relationship in Judd Apatow’s Netflix series, Love. Relationship is the operative word, rather than “romance” or “fling”. This is a show that embraces ties between humans in all their ugliness. It’s awkward. It’s annoying. And it’s addictive.
The show set its tone by beginning with the break-up of their previous relationships – and that spiky quality only gets worse. It’s not until halfway through the 10 episodes that we get our first date, and it’s not even a date between Gus and Mickey: instead, she sets him up with her roommate, Bertie.
Claudia O’Doherty was already stealing scenes galore in the opening episodes, but giving her centre stage like that is an inspired move, as she only becomes less suitable for Gus as their night goes on. A meal in a restaurant sees them irritate their waiter with requests to change table and have their food re-cooked, but that irritation is soon turned on each other, as she accidentally texts Gus a message meant for Mickey. Once he realises she’s not that into him, they try and one-up the other to throw the date. Conversations turn to poo and 9/11 conspiracies and everything in between.
It’s a microcosm of what makes Apatow’s show so good – the whole thing is gut-squirmingly unpleasant, but also stomach-churningly funny, and all it ever seems to do is confirm that the people we’re watching on screen really shouldn’t be together.
Mickey’s inserting of herself into Bertie’s date is swiftly followed by an actual rendezvous for our central couple, but that, of course, is just as unsuccessful, as he tries to take her to The Magic Castle – only for her to sceptically undermine every trick she sees, before getting kicked out for flouting the dress code. Gus is annoyed, but also embarrassed that he’s not the kind of guy who can break rules for her. Neither of them are particularly nice people.
It takes balls to write a show in which the two main characters are so unlikeable – the closest thing to this on TV at the moment is Channel 4’s Catastrophe, but this, at least on the surface, has less charm and heart. What they do share, though, is an honesty that fuses performance and script: Rust is credited as co-creating the series with Apatow and Lesley Arfin, and that intimate familiarity with his character shines through. What initially starts out as as generic Nice Guy becomes more and more complex, as he emerges as a cloying, clingy, controlling and entitled man – someone who thinks he deserves things because he’s “nice”, while simultaneously not being that nice at all. Jacobs, meanwhile, is superb as Mickey, wallowing in self-sabotage and cruelty in a horribly convincing way; her sigh as she resets the sobriety counter on her AA app is heartbreaking.
It’s no coincidence that we spend a large chunk of the second half of Season 1 in the company of someone else, who genuinely is lovely: Heidi. Briga Heelan is amazing as the actress on the TV show Wichita, on which Gus works as a tutor. She’s considerate, sweet, enthusiastic. Or, to put it succinctly, she’s Canadian. She even joins in the jam nights Gus hosts, which see him and his friends compose theme tunes for movies that don’t have theme tunes.
For a while, Love teases us with the idea that they’re the ones who should be together, as Gus gets a chance to join the writers’ room, after Wichita buys his spec script for an episode. She, meanwhile, is promoted to a recurring role on the show, after he gives her some acting advice. Compared to idea of Gus being with Mickey, the result is less of a will-they-won’t-they and more a why-on-earth-would-they romance.
But by the time we reach the finale, Gus has been so snobby and protective of his idea that he’s ruined his chance to be a writer – his job as a tutor is only saved by his pupil (and star of the show) Arya, played by Iris Apatow with a fantastically loathsome sense of privilege. Heidi, meanwhile, is written out and storms away in anger, after he attempts to claim that he tried to save her like a noble white knight.
It’s only then that Guy and Mickey really begin to drift towards each other once again – and it’s the series’ determination to explore what their lives are like separately that gives it such a unconventional, effective emotional weight. There’s a constant push and pull with our sympathies, which understands the way that relationships come and go in real life, as bonds are formed and break down from one chapter to another. Even the programme’s runtime, which extends to 40 minutes per episode rather than the conventional broadcast-friendly 25, seems deliberately designed to incorporate those extra moments of unglossy unpleasantness that would normally not make it to a final cut. It gives Mickey a chance to grow, taking the focus away from Gus, but also gives their potential relationship the opportunity to become burdened with the kind of tiny, mundane complexities many love stories ignore.
“Maybe I’m not nice, you know,” Gus jokes at one point, but that accurate quip paves the way for a complex portrayal of two muddled adults struggling to make sense of everything. Even after we’ve seen them fail to be with others, we’re still struggling to make sense of their bond too.
In the final episode, Mickey takes herself to an addicts’ meeting – not one for drugs, but for love and sex. And so the idea of needing to be wanted, and being scared of being alone, is quietly raised. (Emphasis on the quietly: she doesn’t say a word, relying on Jacobs to communicate everything with her facial expressions.) Gus, on the other hand, decides to eat himself into a sugar coma – and so she runs to find him at the same store they first met.
Their reunion, which forms the final scene of Season 1, isn’t exactly cute. “In a year, if you’re willing, I’d love to get a coffee,” she tells him, admitting that she has issues she needs to work out. And it’s here that things click, as the sheer ugliness of their baggage, and the complications of agreeing to share that baggage, reminds us that while Heidi was something of a fantasy for Gus (cf. their hilariously unnatural sex scene together), Mickey is 100 per cent real.
Are they perfect for each other? No. Are they soulmates? It’s doubtful. But there’s something that keeps drawing them back to each other. Is it a shared sense of confusion? A recognition of a kindred spirit? A chance for Gus to again be a knight in shining armour and save a woman? Pure convenience? Never settling for an easy-to-explain answer, and bluntly refusing to promise a happy ending, it’s Love. And it’s annoyingly addictive stuff.
Season 1 and 2 of Love are available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.