This article contains some spoilers for the first season of Love, currently streaming on Netflix.
It’s hard to pinpoint at which moment I really peaced out on Love, Netflix’s new Judd Apatow-produced “romantic comedy”, but I think it was around the time that yet another inexplicably beautiful woman had thrown herself at Gus.
Gus, a hapless nice dude, is played by Paul Rust, who looks a bit like Disney’s cartoon Ichabod Crane – you might not kick him out of bed for farting, but he’s about as far from a matinee idol as the real world is from Love‘s chintzy vision of east Los Angeles.
The show concerns Gus’ will-they-or-won’t-they courtship (of sorts) with Mickey, played by solid-gold robobabe Gillian Jacobs. As writer EJ Dickson put it, “In terms of conventional standards of attractiveness, they’re not only not in the same league, they’re not even playing the same sport. In fact, they’re not even playing sports. Mickey is playing touch football while Gus is, I don’t know, making a mug for his mom on a kiln in the arts-and-crafts cabin.”
This is, for anybody who has followed Apatow’s oeuvre, par for the course: from the hapless Sam Weir finally getting to date cheerleader Cindy Sanders in 1999’s (magical) Freaks & Geeks to Knocked Up‘s “you will believe an overweight stoner can co-parent with a beautiful ice queen” premise and beyond, both his own work and that he champions tends to deal in this variety of adolescent-nerd wish fulfilment.
(This is not just an Apatow problem, as Kevin James’ entire career – and one of Amy Schumer’s best bits – demonstrates.)
The show is co-created by Rust and Lesley Arfin, who are married. Arfin has also written for Girls, and came to prominence as one of the key purveyors of personal essay overshare in her column for Vice. (You don’t need to Google Arfin to guess that the attractiveness ratio of Gus and Mickey was ripped from the pages of real life.)
That the show follows a very well worn Apatovian path would be fine, if a little played out, if Love didn’t position Mickey as a desolate trainwreck who is so strung out by addiction, substance abuse and misanthropy that she can’t even remember if she let her own cat escape or not, let alone pin down a relationship.
Mickey spends the ten episodes dealing with a variety of hideous men, from her ex Eric (Kyle Kinane, excellent as usual) to her sleazy boss Dr. Greg (Brett Gelman), in between working out if she really does want to date Gus, a human dormouse.
Gus is, effectively, both a nice guy and a Nice Guy; he’s caring in some instances, but also sulks when Mickey isn’t blown away when he takes her on a date to L.A’s exclusive Magic Castle (a personal nightmare of mine). As Vulture‘s Margaret Lyons astutely noted in her review, “Gus is the kind of guy who considers himself nice but really isn’t: he’s ineffectual as an educator, judgmental as a suitor, and hot and cold as a companion.”
When Mickey pulls him up on his evasiveness post-sex, Gus hisses at her that she’s pretending to be a Cool Girl who “immediately becomes like every other lame girl who, like, gets clingy and won’t give a guy space”.
The scene is coded so that we side with Gus – Mickey has just peeled off from a studio tour to confront him on the set of the YA show he works for, which makes her the bad guy – even though Gus’ treatment of Mickey for the past episode or so has been cold-tending-emotionally-tormenting. I found myself so gripped by rage as their confrontation unfolded that I had to get up and walk around the room.
The show’s predominantly white-upper-middle-class milieu is especially frustrating; Apatow has just shoved the “west of the 405” world of his and James L. Brooks’ films about rich white L.A people problems east a few miles, despite the fact that Los Feliz, Echo Park and DTLA are, despite the constant grind of gentrification, more diverse neighbourhoods. (Thank god there’s a scene with a taco truck, huh?) Ironically, considering Hollywood’s problems with diversity, Gus’ Wichita workplace – which includes the excellent Jordan Rock as craft services dude Kevin – is the most diverse corner of the show.
There is much to like about the show, especially Apatow’s knack for well-drawn and empathetic supporting characters, the best of which include Claudia O’Doherty as Mickey’s new roommate, and Freaks And Geeks alumni Dave “Gruber” Allen and Steve Bannos as a couple of Hollywood refugees who live in Gus’ apartment complex. Jacobs and Andy Dick share some poignant scenes in episode six, ‘Andy’ (directed by mumblecore maven Joe Swanberg), as they discuss the finer details of addiction.
Indeed, I would watch an entire show in which Mickey navigates her own emotional turmoil and addictive tendencies; Jacobs’ performance is appealing and repulsive in precisely the right measure. Rust, well, he’s fine, but Gus is so infuriating that each time Netflix began auto-playing the next episode I spent the entire 45-seconds yelling “UGH” (echoed by my housemate, who finished the show a day ahead of me), and the “schlub/weirdo pursues hot babe” – no matter the characters’ individual foibles – trope is so searingly visually apparent that I occasionally found myself physically recoiling.
(The less said about the season’s final moment, which involves a kiss certainly styled as romantic that instead comes off as suffocating and disrespectful, given what Mickey has just revealed to Gus.)
Enough’s enough, Hollywood: even the playing field. Where’s the Netflix series where Rachel Dratch is pursued by Liam Hemsworth? If there’s an actress out there with a hook nose the size of Paul Rust’s and a pair of Coke-bottle glasses, when do we get to see her make out with some studly leading man without having to undergo a makeover first?
In one scene in Love, Gus jams with Mickey’s friend Brian (played by Eels’ Mark Oliver Everett) at a party, and they rip into Wings’ classic, ‘Jet’, a keenly observed choice for a dork like Gus. As that song goes, “I can almost remember their funny faces/ That time you told them that you were going to be marrying soon” – Mickey and Gus might not be headed up the aisle any time soon (they’ll be back for a second season, which begins shooting next month), but suffer a jet, I think we all know where this is heading.