‘Love’ in the time of Millennials

I just finished binging “Love” and I have a lot of thoughts about it. Yes, I know it came out almost two months ago but I don’t binge watch as fast as some of you people. Plus, like I said, I have a lot of thoughts about it. Photo found here.

There’s a lot to love about “Love.” Judd Apatow’s latest project, created and written by him, Paul Rust and Lesley Arfin, is one of Netflix’s better original programming offerings of the last year. It’s raw, honest and, I daresay, compassionate towards its two main characters. It allows the plot room to grow (the main couple doesn’t even meet until the last 30 seconds of the pilot episode). It features some of the most realistic dialogue ever performed in front of a camera.

And it’s also a brutally uncomfortable portrait of millennials.

This is a trend with rom-coms as of late- Hulu’s “Casual,” FXX’s “You’re The Worst,” HBO’s “Togetherness,” Netflix’s “Master Of None,” and virtually all of Joe Swanberg’s mumblecore films specialize in emphasizing the rom but not the com. Some have dubbed this phenomenon the “sadcom.”

“Love” tells the story of supposed “nice guy” Gus (Rust) and perpetual addict Mickey (Gillian Jacobs of “Community,” showing some amazing depth here),  as they quite literally stumble into each other, spark a friendship and then a relationship. This is nothing new; hundreds of films and TV shows have used this same plot device. The main conceit of “Love” is that the two main characters aren’t necessarily likeable people, and probably shouldn’t be together in the first place.

The show has Apatow’s influence all over it, even though most of the writing credit goes to the husband-wife duo of Rust and Arfin. The main Apatowian constructs are there, though: the dorky, nebbish guy (that state of being in between boy and man that has inhabited Apatow’s creative output since “Freaks and Geeks”) who somehow gets a charming, attractive girl; the loving bromantic relationships between said nebbish guy and his friend; the LA setting where the main character is on the fringes of a job he wants to work at but just hasn’t gotten there yet; and of course, the drawn-out length of the series.

This show is also typically millennial. Not just in the characters’ ages and the setting in time, but in its attitudes about relationships as well. Like “You’re The Worst”’s highlight reel of #firstworldproblems, the opening birth control scene in “Master of None” and “Casual”’s well, casual views on sex and long-term relationships, “Love” embodies the worst attitudes about millennials. It is fixated on arrested development and what it means to be an adult, like lots of Apatow’s films. And its attitudes about love and life and adulthood are mixed, and often, cynical. Which is why it’s so real and hits so close to home for a lot of people.

By now, you know the analysis on #millennials. My generation came of age in a time where we witnessed the largest attack on our country since Pearl Harbor. We were ushered into wars we’re still fighting, we saw a once-thought impenetrable market crash in the blink of an eye and it’s becoming increasingly harder to pay for school and then find a job, even ones that we’re stupidly overqualified for. So why should looking for love be any happier?

“Love” is a love story for a generation of realists and cynics. It’s less of a comedy than it is a slice of life peek into singlehood that occasionally yields laughs.

In this show, being an adult means living in your own apartment and working at a job, sure, but the little celebrations of becoming an adult that defined earlier generations (marriage, children, getting that promotion) are absent in favor of things like realizing that maybe you’re not that “nice” of a guy after all, or maybe you should stop drinking because it’s a destructive habit for you, as our two protagonists do.

“Love”’s main characters are just stumbling along, looking for someone else to fix their problems for them. It’s not hard to imagine Gus and Mickey as avatars for the worst neuroses of the millennial generation. They were the ones who were given participation trophies for just showing up to practice and they were told that they were unique special snowflakes. They probably weren’t really taught how to “adult,” whatever the hell that means, but they aren’t trying to learn, either.

They wanted to be saved from their own neuroses, but when they live in an age that rewards Instant Gratification, where cheap sex can be found on Tinder, immediate food can be found on Seamless and all the entertainment they could want is at their fingertips, why bother? Instead, they look to other people and other things to cure themselves of their selves, which, as the characters in “Love” find out, isn’t always the smartest choice.

I guess I should say something now about the rest of the show. It’s nicely directed, with a different person behind the camera for every episode. The laugh-out-loud funny moments, though rare, are dead-on (the highlight being an episode where recovering alcoholic Mickey goes on a bender with a man named Andy, played by none other than Andy Dick). The characters are so well-acted by Rust and Jacobs that you actually despise them when they act reprehensible and cheer for them when they come thiiiis close to getting their shit together.

And, for what it’s worth, “Love” expertly subverts the “nice guy” and “manic pixie dream girl” tropes it sets up at the beginning. “Love” manages to turn those two tired old memes into actual, deep characters.

I kept thinking of Apatow’s “Knocked Up” whenever Gus and Mickey got into an argument: “You think because you don’t yell, you’re not mean.” Mickey tells Gus at one point, “You’re not nice; you’re fake nice, and that’s worse.” Rust is out to destroy the “nice guy/friendzone” construct that’s so popular in our culture now, and allows Gus to go to some really dark places to make that point. It’s the show’s greatest and most divisive asset.

All in all, I’m looking forward to Season 2 of “Love,” if only to see how these two crazy millennials can grow up together. Maybe they need each other after all.

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