I have long been a fan of Judd Apatow’s much imitated slacker, laddish comedy. His male characters are likeable, and their interactions with their male counterparts are both amusing and believable, allowing talented comedic actors such as Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan and Steve Carrell to riff off one another, creating genuinely funny set pieces.
Apatow has, however, had a clear difficulty in depicting women on-screen. His women often fall into simplistic caricatures: women who are either ‘bitches’ for not wanting to involve themselves with our lovable hero, or remarkably attractive women who just happen to fall for the nerdish protagonist. Katherine Heigl of Knocked Up had a particular issue with her character, the demanding Alison, remarking ‘I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy?’. Many of Apatow’s female characters read as immature wish fulfilment, demonstrating very little, if any complexity.
Love his latest effort (created in conjunction with Paul Rust and Lesley Arfin) could be viewed as a rebuff to his earlier career criticism. The women in Love are just as developed as the male characters and more importantly are awarded a complexity hitherto unseen in his work.
The Netflix original series seeks to explore gendered perspectives on relationships and despite the inevitable meet-cute, is refreshing in its irreverent approach. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is a functioning alcoholic; moderately successful in her role at a digital radio station, she attempts to negotiate both her professional and personal life whilst struggling with her sobriety. Gus (Paul Rust) is a tutor to child stars and spends much of his time desperately attempting to get his students to focus in between scenes on set. The pair meet when Mickey realises she is unable to pay for her goods at a store and Gus offers to help. The depiction of this moment, for me, typifies Love‘s refreshing approach. In this instance it would have been so easy for Mickey to play the clichéd damsel in distress, whose gratitude at Gus’ heroism leads to a potential relationship. Instead Mickey takes advantage of the situation, asking Gus to purchase her additional items (to which he willingly acquiesces) and then spends the afternoon driving Gus around in her hot-boxed car.
The narrative, whilst obviously building to the pair developing a relationship never feels hackneyed or laden. In a similar way, whilst the audience is waiting for Gus and Mickey to interact with one another, much of the narrative is devoted to the pair developing as individuals, showing their struggles at work or their attempts to work through their own personal issues.
The appeal of the show is not merely down to its writing: Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs in particular are incredibly compelling and eminently watchable, but so too is the supporting cast. Claudia O’Doherty as Bertie, Mickey’s new room mate is especially good; her slightly off-piste approach and comedic timing ensure that her screen moments are as enjoyable as the lead protagonists.