Judd Apatow's new kinda-comedy series "Love" landed on Netflix Friday, and I spent part of the weekend alternating between laughing and fast forwarding through awkward onscreen moments that managed to call back just about every personal relationship anxiety I've ever experienced.
"Love" is one show in a string of romantic comedy series trying to tap into "more honest" looks at relationships. I'm not quite sure which definition of honesty is being grabbed at here. It appears to mean more self-destruction than affection, a guide through the moments in burgeoning relationships we'd like to forget over the ones we'd like to remember.
These shows tend to emphasize the relatability of the uncertainty, confusion and pain that come along with bungling through new relationships, rather than the excitement and ooey-gooey feelings that meeting a new person can bring. Gushy moments do pop up every so often to help pry viewers back from the angst abyss, but these feel like seeds of relationship hope that are sprinkled sparingly over a bed of spikes. Anxious, cringe-inducing, I'm-going-to-die-alone spikes.
That's not to say the show isn't funny. For all the self-serving assholery that sprouts forth from potential couple Mickey and Gus — played by Gillian Jacobs of "Community" and a supremely indoor kid-looking Paul Rust — there's solid wit and writing to build upon, and I did get a few full-body laughs on occasion. But it's also goddamn exhausting at times.
"Man Seeking Woman" is another show that walks around and through relationships with a similarly awkward gait, only with more emphasis placed on the surreal than the destructive. Jay Baruchel, another Judd Apatow alum himself, plays Josh, a gangly twenty-something looking for love in some weird fucking places.
Where "Love" tends to focus on bad decisions and overreactions, "Man Seeking Woman" spends more time on over-thinking and inaction. Most of the comedy comes from Josh's off-kilter interpretations of his romantic life and the hostility and uncertainty of the modern dating scene.
It's not as tiring to see Josh bungle through courtship as it is watching Gus and Mickey in "Love"— "Strangelove"-esque war-room scenes debating the merits of texting someone a dick pic and the occasional giant penis monster do a good job at keeping the show from getting lost in the mopey single white guy labyrinth. But again, the moments of successful and unselfish connection between people are few and far between.
I'm not calling for a return to Lifetime original movie levels of schmaltz in romantic comedy, but it seems like the emphasis now is more centered around confusion and defeat. I am, against my better judgement, a romantic, and as funny as these shows are, they can feel like a slog through a mile of shit to get at the warm fuzzies. Can't everyone just stop being dicks to each other and make out already?
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