There seems to be no definitive end in sight for the “Golden Age” of television, with production quality higher than ever and the line between film and TV becoming more blurred by the second. However, there is something to be said for living in an “Excessive Age” of television as well, with new network pilots ordered, web series adapted, and reboots announced on a daily basis. Viewers are constantly inundated not only with new shows but with access to older ones as well, as they become available on streaming services. This then leads to option paralysis; viewers end up with a hundred shows saved to a playlist with no idea where to begin.
If there isn’t time to watch them all, why waste time on the bad, or even the mediocre? It’s easy to make a case for the shinier relics of the Golden Age of television (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Bojack Horseman among them) but in lieu of those, there is still room for quieter shows like Netflix’s LOVE, which premieres its final season on Friday, March 9th.
LOVE centers on Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust), young thirty-somethings hustling in Los Angeles and trying to figure out what constitutes a healthy relationship, whether together or apart. In the first episode alone Mickey introduces her cat Grandpa as the reincarnation of her literal grandfather and ends up at a religious gathering in a bathing suit high on Ambien. In clumsier hands, Mickey might read as a sharper-tongued variant of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but Jacobs softens her into a full-bodied character working through severe dependencies that range from alcoholism to love addiction.
Mickey’s romantic foil Gus is a hunched, awkward, yet often inexplicably endearing guy who works as an on-set teacher for a petulant child actress (Iris Apatow) on a CW-esque show called Witchita. He apologizes too much and arrives hours early to parties, but he is not necessarily shy. In fact, he usually enters situations with a sense of unearned confidence, which explains Mickey’s initial draw to him.
The two end up single within the first episode for wildly different reasons; Mickey breaks up with her cocaine-addled boyfriend for going pants shopping with his mother, while Gus is dumped by a long-term girlfriend because of the frequency with which he says, “I love you.” This lays the foundation for their future behavior when they start to date each other, as Mickey quits things in frustration and Gus commits to them in earnest. When the characters get along, the natural chemistry between Rust and Jacobs shines through, but the complications that arise write themselves. Viewers are sometimes left wondering not only how they will end up together, but whether they should be allowed to end up together. Sweet glances and last minute beach dates cutaway far too easily to smashed glass bowls and Skype calls that end in “f**k you!”
Amidst the more emotionally tumultuous aspects of the show, LOVE is peppered with a reliably solid cast of supporting actors (Tracie Thoms, Mike Mitchell, Brett Gelman) who broaden the world of the show beyond the idiosyncrasies of Mickey and Gus’ on-again-off-again dating life. Notable among them is Mickey’s roommate Bertie, played by Claudia O’Doherty in a star-making turn. A transplant from Australia, Bertie matches Mickey’s callous barbs with an infectious positivity. Mickey even sets up Gus with Bertie before she falls for him herself, simply because they’re the friendliest people she knows. This leads to a disastrous date, and one of the most well-written episodes of the series, in which Bertie cheerfully rallies, “I just think we’re two nice people who gave it our best shot and that’s the best we can do…anyway, I’m into chubby guys.”
In truth, LOVE is generally less of a comedy and more of a cast of comedic actors rooting their characters in situations that feel scarily real. People often interrupt each other, say jokes that don’t deliver, and fall into uneasy silences. It cuts close to mumble-core in television form, similar in vein to Togetherness and GIRLS. In its attempts to hold a mirror up to reality, LOVE conveys an array of feelings: the anxiety of navigating adulthood, the shame of disappointing loved ones, the comfort of spending time among friends, and ultimately, the tender joy of falling for someone and trusting that somehow you’ll both end up okay.
Seasons 1-3 are currently available for streaming on Netflix.