I felt cautiously excited about Love, Judd Apatow’s new Netflix show starring Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs. On a surface level, it has all the ingredients to be a show I’ll like. It stars two Comedy Bang Bang-affiliated funny people, and is a Judd Apatow production. Plus, most of Netflix’s original series have been better-than-average.
The premise of this unlikely romance draws comparisons to Knocked Up, another Judd Apatow flick featuring a couple whose attractiveness gap angers mothers everywhere. “Seth Rogen chained to a water bong gets with beautiful Izzy from Grey’s Anatomy? What?!” Except I would argue that duo had a lot more chemistry than I could ever picture happening between Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust. I mean she’s the hottie from Community who kind of looks like Jessica Biel when she’s making certain faces. (In response to this show, Vulture published an essay looking at the history of the “attractiveness gap” in TV.)
As the duo shared on Comedy Bang Bang, Jacobs’ name was thrown into the ring for this role because Judd Apatow had liked her on his other show, Girls. There, she plays Mimi-Rose, whose artistic whimsy and general perfection pisses off Hannah (Lena Dunham). Rust himself became the star of the show because he co-wrote it with his wife, Leslie Arfin, who is also a writer on Girls.
The Girls comparisons do not end there. Out of all the Judd Apatow productions in the world (and there are many – IMDB the guy!), this one is possibly the most similar to Girls. It features a loveably imperfect character (Rust as Gus), whose life is in many ways a fantasy. In Girls, Hannah Horwath gets a gig at GQ and then gets into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, all while winning the admiration of guys like Kylo Ren and Donald Glover. Here, Gus turns down a 3-way with sisters right before meeting Mickey (Jacobs) and getting his script made into an episode of teen witch drama Wichita, despite the fact that he’s just an on-set tutor.
There’s also a fair amount of arguing for the sake of arguing, and drama just for the sake of putting the characters through plot-twist grief, even if we don’t quite understand why the characters are acting this shitty. (Does Gus really need to grab the laptop from someone in the writer’s room?) This schadenfreude for its own characters is a hallmark of Girls, too.
The show feels most like a fantasy when Rust is courted by Heidi, a blonde, foxy star of Wichita, which messes up his budding romance with Mickey. This guy gets a lot of sexy lady curveballs thrown at him! Meanwhile, Mickey’s actions make her a flawed enough character that we could supposedly see this couple as being something that could happen in reality.
Despite my trouble buying the basic premise of the show, there were a lot of good things about it. Rust and Jacobs both bring a lot of depth and humor to their characters, and even eek out way more romantic chemistry than I expected. The comedians sprinkled into the supporting cast add a lot of its best lines. The amazing Brett Gelman is here as Mickey’s creepy boss, Dr. Greg Colter, although he’s not in the show nearly enough. Then there’s the Australian comedian Claudia O’Doherty as Mickey’s roommate, who steals a lot of the show’s best scenes. Another notable side character is Gus’ underdog buddy on set, Kevin, played by Jordan Rock (Chris Rock’s brother).
Rock and Wichita head-writer Susan Cheryl (Tracie Thorns) add some diversity to this very-white show, but they are decisively side characters. This had me questioning – has any Judd Apatow production featured a diverse main character? Maaaaybe? I’m guessing the more his productions come with universal titles like Girls and Love, the more he’ll get criticized for their whiteness compared to productions with names like Pineapple Express.
Love gets some points for creating a more flawed, interesting lady protagonist than many other storylines (and compared to Katherine Heigl’s character in Knocked Up). Mickey’s battle with addiction is portrayed with both theater (she goes to a new-age church on Ambien) and nuance as she tries to figure out what rules she should and should not follow as a newly sober(ish) person.
Overall Love was funny and had a lot of heart. It wouldn’t make my top 10 list of Apatow productions (there are soo many), but I wouldn’t rule out watching it again someday. Hopefully it puts Gillian Jacobs on the map for even more ambitious roles in the future.