“It’s like how I love when I see a diner and it’s just called ‘Food,'” said executive producer Judd Apatow, speaking to IndieWire with stars Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs. “No need to come up with a fancy name.”
“You can’t get angry,” Rust added. “They’re like, ‘Hey, we promised food.'”
In a similar fashion, with the title “Love,” Apatow, Rust, and co-creator Lesley Arfin have promised to depict that most complex yet most simple of human emotions on the screen. But they don’t promise a happy ending, which makes the quasi-comedy at times a nerve-wracking experience. Perhaps that’s because the show remains firmly grounded in the real world, where happy endings are rarely a guarantee.
“Love” focuses on Mickey (Jacobs), an addict whose chance encounter with Gus (Rust) in Season 1 blossomed into an awkward romance, aided and at times hindered by the Los Angeles oddballs who surround them. Season 2 picks up at the exact moment Season 1 ended, continuing to explore Mickey’s addiction issues, Gus’s insecurities, and the drama surrounding their respective jobs and friendships.
Deeply embedded in Los Angeles culture, like a lot of Apatow-produced projects, “Love” can’t resist offering up some commentary on the entertainment industry, though Gus’s job as a studio teacher to Arya (Iris Apatow) at least brings a unique perspective to it. “Wichita” remains a high point of the series in how accurately it parodies CW-esque programming (I know this, because “Wichita” is a show I’m only a bit embarrassed to admit I would 100 percent watch) but Gus’s ambitions to move forward as a writer for the screen feature an awkward brutality that proves hard to watch, in that slow-motion trainwreck kind of way.
This doesn’t overwhelm the season, however, thanks to some smart choices in how the season is structured. In the world of streaming, episodes sometimes have a habit of blending together — part of the whole “it’s like chapters in a book” ethos that has lately infected many Netflix storytellers.
But “Love” combats this by focusing many episodes around specific events, including a few standout bottle episodes relatively early in the run (in a similar fashion to “BoJack Horseman,” it’s worth noting). What happens in Episode 4, “Shrooms,” is pretty easy to suss out based on its title, and then it’s followed up by Episode 5, “A Day,” which is perhaps the season’s high point. Not that the rest of the season suffers in comparison, but “A Day” really nails down what makes Mickey and Gus’s dynamic compelling enough to sustain multiple seasons of this show.
Further episodes continue to stand out, but an ongoing subplot involving one of Mickey’s exes (played by the always welcome Rich Sommer of “Mad Men”) does feel a bit wobbly, especially as it comes just as a multi-episode arc for Gus goes off the rails. The season does rally for a strong ending; there’s not a ton of set-up for the previously-greenlit Season 3, but this isn’t a show you watch for its deep and intricate plotting. It’s an exercise in character, one that happens to feature some truly exciting personalities.
Directors this season include Lynn Shelton, Maggie Carey, Brent Forrester, Dean Holland, John Slattery, and Joe Swanberg. On the cast side, returning to the show are supporting player standouts like Tracie Thoms, Mike Mitchell, Seth Morris, and Brett Gelman, with new additions including Randall Park, David Spade and Paula Pell. Shoutout to the low-key weird energy of Bobby Lee as Mickey’s co-worker Truman, who gets more to do this season and does a lot with it.
While Rust proves to be a steady presence on the show, it’s really the women who shine here. Jacobs remains the show’s MVP, turning in a performance which serves as a direct “fuck you” to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl concept; the way in which she surfaces Mickey’s raw vulnerability makes her a truly unique female character within this genre. And Claudia O’Doherty’s work as Bertie is a close runner-up; underlying her charming delivery is a blunt bleakness which proves to be heartbreaking at certain points.
But you get used to that, when watching this show. While it’s not tough viewing in comparison to other series, there’s at least one character in “Love” Season 2 that will leave you feeling profoundly sad. Probably more than one, to be honest. It’s not a show about fundamentally happy people, but it wears that on its sleeve — as well as the fact that while the title might be “Love,” love is not the solution to these characters’ problems. But love is there, right on screen. Right as advertised. Maybe a fancier title would jazz things up a little bit, but there’s no denying that the show delivers on that promise.