This past weekend, Netflix released all 10 episodes of Judd Apatow's newest dramedy, Love. Starring Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs (Community), the show follows two socially awkward 30-somethings as they navigate their new relationship, personal vices and murky, seemingly non-progressive careers. Two of Polygon's reporters — and devout television consumers — Allegra Frank and Julia Alexander decided to spend the fair-weathered weekend by staying cooped up inside their houses and watching every episode. Here are their thoughts on what worked for the series, what didn't work and why it's time for Netflix to change how it releases its shows.
Julia: Allegra, let's be honest. We were both more than a little disappointed with how Love turned out. This was a show we were both invested in from the time it was announced, as big Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust fans. By the end of the series, though, we had sent each other a bunch of text messages at 3 in the morning complaining about almost everything that happened in the series. I'm curious: What was the aspect that bothered you the most?
Allegra: That's hard to say, Julia, because I came away with such a strong sense of frustration that it's difficult to weigh which part of Love I found most egregious. I'm torn between its baffling sense of pace — or lack thereof — and its bland complacency in most ways. Each episode crawled to the 30-minute mark and the plot followed such a strict continuity that it felt like Love was running in real time. That could be fine if the events unfolding were worthy of the in-depth treatment, but they rarely were, especially early on. Watching Mickey and Gus slowly, slowly, slowly come together was not the most exciting task, especially since the moves they made toward establishing their relationship were so boringly familiar.
Did you take issue with Love's excruciating crawl? Or were you a little fonder of the time it took to set up a relationship that I didn't find all that worth the wait for?
Julia: The excruciating crawl was certainly a tightening on the knot of the noose Love wore around its neck the entire time I was watching it, but it wasn't the worst of the series' problems. I think allowing the audience to develop a relationship with the characters individually, before the characters developed a relationship with each other, was a smart move. But the major problem I had with it — which was undoubtedly affected by the pacing — was how two-dimensional, boring and jaded the characters were. Individually, these characters are hard to root for. It's difficult to feel sympathy for Gus because it's a character we've seen time and time again. He's the nice, awkward, seemingly viceless white guy who keeps getting "screwed over" by the women he dates. Mickey is the idealistic wild girl; a rebellious, uber intelligent creative that puts an alcoholic spin on the typical manic pixie dream girl trope.
Not only are they spiteful and jaded people in their own lives, but from the very moment they begin to date, it's apparent to everyone — including themselves — that they are not going to work well together. He's too boring for her and she's too "fucked up" for him. But they continue to pursue a relationship because he believes he can fix Mickey and she believes she can find safety and comfort in the dullness of Gus. They're toxic for each other, but they hold onto the idea of what the relationship could mean even when their actual relationship drives them to the brink of insanity.
Individually, these characters are hard to root for
What did you think of their relationship? Were you a fan of these two characters being together or were you hoping, like I was, that they would eventually dissolve into a pile of "Sorry, can't make it tonight. Raincheck?" text messages?
Allegra: Your invocation of the manic pixie dream girl trope here — scathing! But also accurate: Neither Gus nor Mickey ever felt like more than archetypes for me. They were familiar but not necessarily in an interesting way; relatable, but just barely. I didn't care for them to get together because I'd seen that contrivance before. Love forced its mismatched leads together, something the writers telegraphed from the get-go yet still took their sweet time to make happen.
It's especially frustrating because, you're right, even they don't think they should be together. As soon as they go on their first date, which goes horrendously, as expected, they seem to lose interest in each other. It's such a quick change that is undoubtedly motivated by Mickey's continued descent into addiction and Gus' own annoying narcissism. But even though both of those extenuating factors are to blame here and, in Mickey's case, explored with some nuance, it does make the relationship really, really hard to get invested in.
Love forced its mismatched leads together
What did you make of Mickey and Gus' character flaws and their effect on the relationship? I was especially interested in how the show developed Mickey and pushed her problems to the forefront. Did that strike you as an interesting examination of her character or another undercooked plot device?
Julia: One of the only things I liked about the show was how well it tackled addiction. It was a brutally honest portrayal of what it's like to suffer from substance abuse: the embarrassment, the lying and the feeling of worthlessness that comes with it. Despite the rest of Mickey's flaws, I thought the writers really nailed what it's like to try and cope with addiction on a day-to-day basis.
That all changed, however, toward the end of the season. Mickey starts off as the stronger character. She's the emotionally detached girl who's going to try and help Gus through a tough breakup, setting him up on dates with her Australian roommate, Bertie, and generally just being there for him as a friend. As they start to date, however, Gus takes any chance he can to point out how screwed up she is and how screwed up her life is. On top of that, her boss, an egomaniac radio jockey similar to Dr. Drew, wants to help her get her life together. As they become closer, however, he begins to rag on her for poor life decisions, telling her she'll never be in a healthy relationship.
The result? A total break in Mickey's psyche that's borderline offensive. She becomes obsessed with the idea of Gus, staying up into all hours of the night and watching videos of him on YouTube or stalking his social media accounts. She's no longer an independent lone wolf, but instead portrayed as an overly attached "crazy" girl that Gus tries to escape. While Mickey is broken down into this trope of a lovesick woman, Gus moves forward in his own career as a television writer and becomes an entirely new man, full of confidence. Mickey started off as a character that I think many people could relate to; I know I saw quite a few characteristics in her that I see in myself. But somewhere down the line, she was disrespected and turned into a lazy plot device for Gus. The narrative changed. It was no longer about two people testing out a relationship, but about this guy changing this woman only to grow fed up with her when the dream didn't match the reality.
She's no longer an independent lone wolf, but instead portrayed as an overly attached "crazy" girl
But part of the reason I think their relationship, or lack thereof, seemed even more inconsequential was because of how fast I went through the series. I watched all 10 episodes within a 24-hour window. Normally, I can binge a Netflix series and it doesn't affect my enjoyment of it, but after watching Love, I wondered whether I would have enjoyed it more if I had spent 10 weeks with these characters, thinking more about them and their own complex personalities, instead of just hitting the "continue watching" button while lying on my couch. Allegra, what do you think about that? Did binging it affect your opinion of the series?
Allegra: That's an interesting take on how the series handled Mickey as an addict and character overall. I know that co-creator Lesley Arfin suffered from similar problems as Mickey in the past, leading to the sincere portrayal. But while you read the series as damning Mickey as a crazy person, I had trouble getting a good read on how we were supposed to feel about the character.
This might be a bit meta here, but I was struck by how a series created by a recovered addict about someone suffering from addiction premiered so closely to the anniversary of Harris Wittels' passing. The popular podcaster and comedy writer suffered from addiction, too, and was a close friend of Paul Rust's. Mickey admits that she has a problem — a lot of problems — but the way the season wraps up, and how these problems are presented throughout the season, felt like a disinclination from actively placing the blame on her addiction. That's not wrong, and sufferers shouldn't be faulted for these issues. But I think it's a problem when the show seems to cast this character in an unflattering light relative to everyone else and refuses to acknowledge outright why that is until the very end.
And god, what an end. I think binging made that conclusion all the more annoying. I too finished the season within about six hours. That's how I almost always go through my Netflixing, and I say that with neither pride nor shame. Netflix works that way by design, but Love definitely showed me that maybe having everything at once works better for some series than others.
I think this new release format has a lot of benefits for both the creative side and the consumer. But in the case of Love, none of the advantages of producing a show for speedy viewing worked in its favor.
That's how I really felt: disappointed.
The episodes ran far too long and too slowly, and my impulse to hit "continue" every time was seriously challenged by their inability to wrap up without lingering. Having some space to breathe between episodes, as well as a mandate from the network to the production team to keep things engaging during a shorter runtime, would have done Love a lot of good. Instead, I was mindlessly watching the episodes and letting my frustration fester until the whole thing blended into one unmemorable blob of disappointment.
That's how I really felt: disappointed. What about you? Did you have high expectations for this series that it didn't quite match, considering the names behind it? And how will this affect your Netflix habits going forward?
Julia: Like you said, Allegra, I think part of my disappointment comes from the self-imposed hype I had for the show because of who was behind it. Don't get me wrong, I no longer expect much out of an Apatow production, but I love Rust's writing and I love Jacobs as an actress and comedian. I thought between the two of them, the series could do no wrong. I kept waiting for the series to become what I thought it would be, and it never did. The ending, like you previously mentioned, is the most disappointing part of all. And while we won't go into it for spoiler reasons, it didn't make any sense. Thinking about it now, I'm still angry over that ending, to be completely honest. The entire time I spent watching Love made me realize how much I wished I was watching Master of None instead. Love tries to accomplish something similar to what Master of None did, but never comes close.
As for your question about my Netflix viewing habits, it's something I've thought about recently. The main reason I binge-watch a show on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon is because I'm reviewing it or writing something about it and I have to do it for work purposes. But I've talked to friends and family members about the way they watch shows on Netflix, and it's almost unanimous that they enjoy the series a lot more if they pace themselves. I think if I'm not reviewing a series, I'll probably spend more time spacing the episodes out so I can allow myself to become fully immersed in it. After all, watching an episode of a series once a week has worked out pretty well on traditional television thus far. Why try and change that format just because we're given the episodes all at once? A little self-restraint might be good.
Now, despite our dislike for the show, there are many people who really enjoy it and I can't see Netflix not renewing it for a second season. When it gets renewed for a second season, because it will, are you going to tune in for another 10 episodes?
Allegra: Oof, yes, I constantly found myself wishing I were just rewatching Master of None. That show and Love are similar on the most superficial level: 30-somethings in relationships. But where Love feels like a retread, Master of None approaches that basic premise from diverse angles and has legitimate laughs amid its drama. Love didn't do too well on either of those fronts. The potential was certainly there, but it also raises the question: Did we need another show like this? My feeling is that, no, we didn't. Love brings nothing to the table that Master of None or other similar series like You're the Worst don't already do much better.
Interesting that your informal poll reveals that most prefer to watch Netflix as they would traditional TV. I tend to agree that I enjoy a show much better when I consume it as I would a weekly serial, but I just can't help myself. Such is the curse of the modern viewer, I think: all of the options, none of the impulse control.
So, bad news for you, Julia: Netflix renewed Love for season two ahead of its first season's premiere. I'd argue that the service jumped the gun there, but they bought into the idea of it as readily as we did. Netflix also has cash to burn in television development and is able to take the risk. But with Love, it goes to show that some risks just aren't worth it on the most basic and important level: entertainment. I can't say I'm anticipating Love's sophomore season, although I also want to bear in mind that shows like Bojack Horseman majorly improved upon their return. But I just don't see Paul Rust, Lesley Arfin and Judd Apatow rocking the boat to get me to devote much more thought or energy into a series I've essentially seen before countless times.
Julia: Well put, Allegra. I, for one, want off this roller coaster. Let's face it, Love stinks.