How much do I love Love? Let me count the ways.
Season Two of the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix rom-com dropped less than a month ago. A third season has already been ordered.
The 12 new episodes find our heroes, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust), right where we left them at the end of Season One. That is at night outside a gas station, with Mickey confessing that she is a sex, drug and booze addict. She declares straight up that she has enrolled in a program and that she’s swearing off men for a year.
They kiss, of course, and soon are in each other’s lives as much as ever. Love is irrational and random and just plain nuts and so is the series.
Mickey was the maddening one the first season, a hot mess and at times a truly unlikable character. In season two she meets you halfway, committing to her 12-step program, making better decisions, taking charge at work. She’s not perfect and has lapses — some more serious than others — but she’s changing for the better.
Gus, on the other hand, takes a step back. He’s whiny and annoying. He doesn’t know when to retreat, especially on a location shoot when he turns a surprise career opportunity into an uncomfortable disaster. He’s suddenly the socially awkward one on a night out with friends at a bar, turning off a friendly advance as quickly as he turns on his mobile device.
Still, generally, he’s still big-hearted Gus, seeing the best in others and open to life. Mickey knows it and needs it and keeps this door to a happy life open.
There’s a lovely episode in the middle of Season Two that shows the pair enjoying a sweet Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It starts with taking Gus’ towel to the beach, standing in the sun on a bridge, basking in a rare, carefree day. It’s very Courtship of Eddie’s Father, reminiscent, if you’re familiar with that early ’70s sitcom, of the times Eddie and his dad would talk truths over scenes of the perfect play day.
This does not last or Season Two would be 20 minutes long, right? The danger here is that Mickey is way, way hotter than Gus. That always leads to trouble, especially when an old boyfriend starts dangling Facebook shots of a shared dog whose days appear to be numbered. Mickey tells Gus, heading out of town for three weeks, that she doesn’t do well with separation. She, at least, recognizes her short comings. Gus is in denial of his own limitations.
Several recurring characters really step up in Season Two. Chief among them is Iris Apatow as difficult child star Arya Hopkins, Gus’s strong-willed on-set teaching assignment. Don’t accuse Apatow senior here of nepotism; he could not have found anyone better for this role.
David Spade plays Hopkins’ dirt-bag dad. He dials it back and delivers a saucy, well-rounded performance. Daniel Stern shows up for one episode as Mickey’s messed-up father and you watch and get why she is the way she is.
Claudia O’Doherty is just as irresistible as Mickey’s sweet, scatter-brained roommate Bertie Bauer. O’Doherty has a way of delivering a line that seems both knowing and guileless and disarms everybody in the room. You worry about her with Gus’ slacker pal Randy (Mike Mitchell) but that episode where Mickey takes the other three on a mushroom-fueled adventure is wonderfully trippy.
The series is based somewhat on Rust and co-creator Lesley Arfin’s own romantic back story. Apatow weaves in plenty of friends and co-workers and helps cook up a very episodic stew. Running times can balloon close to 40 minutes, but, in Season Two anyway, the characters and storytelling are both so rich you are happy to take every extra minute.
Various directors, including Mad Men alumni John Slattery and Joe Swanberg (Netflix’s Easy), helps give Love a variety of looks. Things slid into slapstick chase mode in the uneven Season Two finale, but the improv edginess also helped set up a suspenseful finish.
Finding a good comedy on TV or in cinemas is a challenge these days, especially in a field as played out as romantic comedy. Love, for me, is the answer. Jacobs and Rust are flawed and unlikely but that just seems to make them very real. You want to slap them about as often as you want to root for them. Watching Mickey and Gus and their posses dive straight into life’s most awkward situations is somehow both comforting and cathartic. It is one of the sweetest, most exhilarating thrills I have found on TV this year.