Fascinating 'Love' on Netflix could cause bingeing
In one of the truly ironic moments of this century's explosion of small-screen art, a young woman is lectured about the dangers of bingeing.
It's a righteous if slightly malicious speech — Mickey, played by the truly luminous Gillian Jacobs, is an alcoholic and all that entails amid the Echo Park singles scene (i.e. she makes a fool of herself at parties and has sex with many men, some of whom she treats badly). But the speech comes in the middle of the latest 10-episode download from Netflix, which makes it a bit difficult not to, you know, project.
Especially since this series, titled "Love" and created by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust, exploits the OK-just-one-more effect of its binge model so fully that somewhere around Episode 7 the term "Stockholm syndrome" comes to mind.
Which may actually be the point. The story of two damaged people becoming unlikely friends then lovers, "Love" is essentially "When Harry Met Sally" tatted up for the modern age, taking its time and full advantage of its freedom from commercials and time slots of any sort.
No well-scored-montage shortcuts here! "Love" is the enemy of the well-scored-montage shortcut! Apatow and company want to explore the whole darn thing in as close to real time as possible, which, with the aid of Jacobs' standout performance and just enough humor and insight, slowly lulls you into a state of theta-wave fascination.
Mickey and Gus: During a wholly expositional and overly wrought first episode we meet Mickey, whose job as producer of a radio self-help program works in eye-rolling contrast to her self-destructive personal life, and Gus (Rust), an on-set tutor, passive narcissist and self-defined "nice guy" who can't understand why his girlfriend has cheated on him.
Mickey and Gus don't meet-cute until the end of the 40 or so minutes (the episodes vary in length, but the rebellious 40 or so minutes appear average); it's the second episode that sends them on one of those why-not daylong urban adventures in which Gus falls for Mickey and Mickey admits, "I usually hate meeting people, but I don't hate you."
This is the sort of thing Mickey will say often, in a self-hating sort of way, and it is to Jacobs' everlasting credit that she usually makes it stick, despite her perfect cheekbones and Mickey's obvious essential kindness.
Gus, on the other hand, is a vibrating mess of OCD control-freakiness cloaked in a miasma of constant apology and genuine human concern. He is drawn to Mickey because she is funny and wild but also because she is hot, putting "Love" firmly into the category of the aspirational male-dating myth, or Schleps Who Date Supermodels, embraced by Apatow and male screenwriters everywhere.
Courtship: The rest of the episodes documents their courtship as a series of missteps, miscues and occasional moments of tremendous illumination (the Magic Castle episode is terrific on every level). With many Echo Park locations used as both exterior and interior, Los Angeles hasn't looked this real since "Transparent" went to the Warehouse in Marina del Rey for drinks.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the courtship, which is fretted with all the my-dysfunction-fits-with-your-dysfunction tics required of modern romantic comedies ever since Apatow began making successful films in the genre. (See also "Girls," which Apatow produces, and "You're the Worst," which he does not.)
This means "Love" often feels infuriatingly familiar to the point of derivative — seriously, are drunken sex with random partners and a foul mouth the only foibles a troubled heroine can have? — until some small twist adds just enough zest to keep things moving. Gus' main student is a bratty but genuinely exploited child star (Apatow's daughter Iris); Mickey has a new roommate, played by the wonderful Claudia O'Doherty, who owns any scene she's in without seeming to steal it.
And Apatow is indeed a master of his genre. As with the works of Ernest Hemingway and Ayn Rand, the tempo of and message of "Love" are so overwhelming, so confidently dictatorial, that it's difficult not to fall into step while watching.
"Ah, yes," you find yourself muttering as Gus vents to his sweet nerdy friends over breakfast at a diner so exquisitely retro hip it actually is the Brite Spot, "I know/remember those existential brunches." "So true," you say, as Mickey's boss, played by Brett Gelman, explains how bingeing doesn't just apply to booze.
Which may be among the few things you actually remember when you emerge from however many episodes of "Love" you can watch in one go, blinking into the unfamiliar sunlight, mouth dry and wondering: "Oh, my God, what time is it?"