Features

Streaming Services: the rise of prestige television

This post was written for, and appears on The 405. 

 

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In praise of Love

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To the undiscerning, Netflix’s Love may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a lazy, clichéd romantic comedy in which the geeky male protagonist improbably forms a relationship with the attractive female protagonist. Starring Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, and Paul Rust as Gus, the series focuses on the pair’s developing relationship, from initial meet-cute, in which Mickey asks Gus to pay for her cigarettes, to their eventual and inevitable hook-up.

Certainly its detractors have pointed out the unlikeliness of the relationship between Gus and Mickey  yet to highlight the disparity between the two involves only taking the characters at face value. One dimensionally, Mickey is far more attractive than Gus. She is largely successful in her career, whereas Gus, desperate to write his own screenplay, struggles with his role as an onset tutor (and often does a terrible job). Yet both characters have their unlikeable and difficult qualities which help to both develop and deepen their characterisation.

Mickey is, in part due to her various addictions (love, sex, alcohol, drugs), often selfish and thoughtless. In forming a relationship with her housemate Bertie, she relies on her for emotional support yet, at least initially, offers little in return. Mickey knows that she is often controlled by her addictions, but in turn, recognises that Gus, despite his perceived affable nature, is just as damaged and selfish as her. It is here, in this characterisation of Gus as the supposed nice guy, which helps to elevate Love beyond the standard rom-com and enables it to be both a thoughtful rendering of a burgeoning relationship and an effective depiction of individual damaged characters.

Gus, despite his apparent niceness and largely positive interactions (he has a plethora of quirky friends) is, in actuality, pseudo-nice. What makes his ‘niceness’ all the more damaging is the fact that he believes it in so earnestly. He truly believes that he is a good guy, who deserves to be recognised for his niceness. He doesn’t understand why his first girlfriend found his thoughtfulness and sincerity so suffocating. For Mickey, his congeniality is, at least initially, refreshing when compared to her past relationships, but she quickly realises that Gus’ presentation of himself belies his true nature.

Much of Gus’ life feels set up and constructed, down to his comical interactions with his students, to his ritual of writing movie theme songs with his friends for songs that don’t have theme songs (Carlito’s Way for example). This concentrated construction stops Gus from confronting his true desires, and when approached by an attractive co-worker, he finds that he is unable to resist the opportunity at playing another role. It is this that makes Gus and Mickey so ideal for one another. They bring out the truth and reality in one another, and only then can they begin to accept who they are. This is not to suggest that Mickey and Gus are reliant on one another in the manner of a co-dependent relationship, but rather, that their relationship with each other affords both the opportunity to try out different roles for themselves without the fear of being judged or treated differently.

In fact, despite Gus and Mickey’s attraction to one another, they spend much of the series apart. Indeed in one episode, Gus and Mickey make plans to see one another, but due to work commitments and social interests, the pair fail to see one another, showing that their characters can and do exist independently from one another. Gus and Mickey don’t need one another, they want one another, and this is an important distinction to make. It is this assertion that helps set Love apart. It features two protagonists who are fully realised, and developed in their own right. Each leads interesting and entertaining lives, and while many of these events mirror each other (with both struggling with issues at work for example) they are separate.

Season two of Love is released on the 10th March 2017.

Five Favourite Documentaries

Senna (2010)

Entirely made from archive footage, Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the late Formula One driver Aryton Sennais a moving, engaging tribute. Its appeal, cemented through a truly dramatic narrative style, reaches far beyond fans of the sport: Senna is a film with universal appeal.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Errol Morris’ excellent documentary paved the way for the successful use of the reconstruction form. Morris’ film, depicting Randall Adams’ wrongful conviction and subsequent imprisonment for murder, prompted a successful review of Adams’ case, resulting in his release. An inspiring film.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Taking place in the world of competitive arcade gaming, King of Kong was originally conceived as a documentary on the general world of this competitive pastime. After coming into contact with the record attempts of Steve Wiebe, the film rapidly emerged as a portrayal of the increasingly fraught rivalry between the aforementioned Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, whose record Wiebe threatens. Truly enthralling.

Grey Gardens (1975)

A wonderfully realised portrayal of a mother and daughter relationship, Grey Gardens depicts the two Edies as they continue their everyday lives.  The filmmakers in adopting a Cinéma vérité style reveals both Ediespersonal thoughts and feelings, allowing their personality to come through: Grey Gardens is a raw, mesmeric film.

Paris is Burning (1990)

Depicting the ‘ball’ culture of New York City, Jennie Livingstone’s film, filmed during the mid to late 1980s, is a wonderfully engaging, often deeply tragic depiction of the African-American, Latino, gay and transgender communities who participate in this culture. Livingstone’s film includes moments of great pathos, along with heartfelt reflections upon issues of gender, race and sexuality. A genuinely affecting film.