Love Life: The best portrayal of romance ever televised | Television & radio
EEvery streaming service must have its own romantic anthology program: it’s the law. Netflix has a dozen. Prime has modern love. There’s the one where Dave Franco is always mad and making craft beer. They all have one-word titles, unless they have a two-word title, in which case one of those words must be “love”. They all have a scene where, after flirting at a bar, a very handsome couple walks out to a food stand late at night and eats something standing up. That, the streaming platforms tell us, is love. It’s a chewy slice of pizza, eaten with a laugh at 1am, while being watched as you shine beautifully through a window.
The second series of Love Life, therefore, which is the HBO Max version (also available on iPlayer and Netflix, where it joins Love, Life & Everything In Between, Lovesick, Love Hard, Sex/Life and, of course, just Love ), and the best of the bunch. The first series took 10 episodes to explain why Anna Kendrick wasn’t married, while the second follows William Jackson Harper as he constantly says the wrong thing to the wrong person at exactly the wrong time.
What Love Life does so well is that those moments of a relationship between a small to a stranger and a huge to an insider are displayed big on the screen: a “you’re weird” conversation on the subway after a long night out; a “she’s my girlfriend” introduction that doesn’t sound right; forget you connected your phone’s iMessages to your Shared iPad even though you came home with flowers. Giving 10 episodes to someone’s half-decade or so of romantic misadventure flips romantic comedy tropes in a very satisfying way: It’s less, “Here’s the bad boyfriend, and here’s the love of your life. The end” and more “Here’s the person who wasn’t quite right, here’s the person you were very awkward with, here’s the person who was very awkward in front of you, and here’s the person you’ll marry a little but n shouldn’t have. The end?”
While the first series was very good, it stuttered at times: there were a bit too many scenes where someone looked sad on a late-night train, and sometimes the Voice of God narrative track found a bit too much emphasis on someone in public being dressed well. The second series is more refined and it helps that Harper is awesome.
In the first episode, as you see his married Marcus tiptoeing into a crush on another woman, you experience all the illicit half-betrayals he commits: overly friendly text messaging, too often , the fact of showing his Instagram account to his friend to try to impress him, the moment when he thinks he has marriage problems and that this is his only way out. At every turn, the show resists the urge to make a character scream, “Ugh… I’m so sick of the apps!” before meeting their soul mate in a café literally seconds later. There are practical friendship overlaps, but never a “So how did you meet?” “Oh, I bumped into her while she was holding a load of smoothies.” That’s what happens when you give a romantic comedy story the years it needs to breathe.
What do we as viewers get out of it? There must be a voracious demand for these shows: that’s why there are so many, right? My theory isn’t complicated, but still: we just love seeing good-looking actors with good chemistry falling a little in love. The current trend for anthology series takes it a step further – here are some handsome people with good chemistry who kinda fall in love, sure, but here’s also the same handsome actor sitting at a bus stop crying because that they can I don’t know what to type in a text.
It won’t be the last of them. There’s always another Quibi, another Peacock TV, another BritBox around the corner; all, legally, need their anthology series. But for now, Love Life is the best example of how interesting and unsweetened on-screen love can be, a densely textured antidote to Bridgerton’s cartoonish breathless romance. Sometimes looking for love is just a guy wearing a very brave hat in a bar before coming home alone and sending a risky DM. Every streaming platform is determined to remind us of that.