I like the show Love and sometimes I’m not sure why.
That response feels appropriate since Love’s two protagonists, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust), feel strong affection for each other without entirely understanding why, either, especially during the second season that starts streaming Friday on Netflix. After an initial season that followed the coalescing of their relationship into something friendly, then romantic, then volatile, the second run of episodes focuses on the pair’s attempt to become a real couple, despite the fact that Mickey has told Gus she’s dealing with the hat trick of addictions: a dependency on alcohol, drugs, and sex/love. This should be a major red flag, but both Mickey and Gus have an astonishing talent for something best described by another Netflix show, BoJack Horseman: “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”
Actually, Mickey and Gus are aware of each other’s shortcomings and point them out to each other during some pretty brutal fights. At times, it feels like the second season of Love — a series co-created by Rust, Judd Apatow, and Lesley Arfin, former Girls writer and Rust’s wife — is just a string of incidents in which they or one of the supporting characters says or does something harsh, often with good reason, then apologizes for it later and acts like what caused their anger was no big deal. This is the sort of thing that can make Love grating. Other things that can make it grating: its characters’ tendencies to make maddening choices, and this season’s more meandering vibe. As a “When Mickey Met Gus” origin story, season one may have taken a few detours, but it still moved forward based on some sort of road map. Season two, on the other hand, doesn’t always appear to know where it’s going. Again, that may be an intentional echo of the relationship it depicts, but that vibe makes some of the episodes, especially the ones on the front end of the dozen, feel excessively aimless.
But here’s the thing: Just when you’re ready to break up with Love, it starts to works its magic on you, thanks to the charms of its cast and a suite of directors (Dean Holland, Joe Swanberg, Lynn Shelton, Maggie Carey, John Slattery) who have a knack for shining a light on the darker, comedic corners of human intimacy. Each episode of Love almost feels like a mini–indie movie, and when one unfolds with an assured casualness, like the fifth episode, which follows Gus and Mickey on a day-long date, Love is a pleasure to watch. In that episode, directed by Shelton, it’s also completely clear why Gus and Mickey are together. There’s such palpable chemistry between Rust and Jacobs, it’s like you can see them charging up, percentage mark by percentage mark, the more they stay plugged into each other.
As was the case in season one, the supporting players are just as freakishly interesting, including Claudia O’Doherty as Mickey’s Australian roommate, Bertie, whose naïve sunniness gets increasingly overcast with self-doubt, and Brett Gelman, who manages to find new shades of smarminess as the blowhard host of a satellite-radio therapy show that Mickey produces. Comedy writing legend Paula Pell gets some great, laugh-out-loud moments this season as Mickey’s boss, who’s desperate to survive a media merger. And in a single-episode appearance as Mickey’s fair-weather father, Daniel Stern is outstanding as he shifts gears from the kind of dad who seems like “a real character” to a man with very nasty edges.
On Love, just about everyone has some nasty edges. Jacobs gets to bring more layers to Mickey this season as her character makes a concerted effort to become her best self. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to grow extremely impatient with her, as Gus does, when she does blatantly careless things like rifling through others’ belongings while he is house-sitting.
Gus, who is positioned, in Apatow-ian tradition, as the dorky sweetheart, isn’t always super-considerate either. Mickey rightly points out that he can be condescending and thoughtless. The trait they most obviously share is an inability to shut up: Mickey can’t stop herself from being brutally honest at the wrong moment, while Gus has no idea when to stop apologizing and making grand gestures designed to ingratiate himself to either Mickey or his colleagues. (Gus works as an on-set tutor to a Hollywood ingenue, played by Iris Apatow, and, just like last season, he keeps tripping and falling into major screenwriting breaks that blow up in his face.)
If you’re coming to Love looking for a TV rom-com about two people you can unabashedly root for as they consciously couple, you’re barking up the wrong Netflix Original. Like so many of the Sad in California Comedies — see also: Transparent, Casual, You’re the Worst, and BoJack Horseman — Love is about Los Angelenos who aren’t always appealing and who have serious psychological issues that demand immediate attention.
The thing is, I’m kind of a sucker for Sad in California Comedies, even when I can spot their flaws. I appreciate that these people are messy and unpredictable, unlike those in the rom-coms of yore. The fact that they have so much goddamned leisure time to obsess over their messiness while making astute pop-cultural observations serves as a sort of escapism for me. (Who are these people with Saturdays and Sunday Fundays that can be completely improvised? I envy them!)
Perhaps my attraction to the messiness suggests that I’m a mess, too. I don’t know. All I know is that, despite my issues with this show, I kept happily advancing to the next episode until I got through all 12 of them.
“Sometimes when I’m in pain, I’m like, ‘Hello, old friend,’” Bertie says at one point while trying to describe her comfort with misery. That’s the effect that Love has on me: Even though I have misgivings about it, I keep going back, eager to wallow and squirm while watching these human piñatas who are destined to split open emotionally, but still manage to squeeze in some terrible decisions and quality references to The Simpsons and The Cider House Rules before the inevitable rupture.