Of all the comedic dramas about creative people in big cities struggling to make their lives work, Netflix’s Love is closest to being a straight drama. The show’s central couple, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (series co-creator Paul Rust), realize that they probably don’t belong together by the end of the first season, and yet they still try to make things work. In the second season, there’s still plenty of hijinks — the characters do mushrooms in one episode, and crash at a rich TV writer’s house in another — but the show gets darker and grimmer as the relationship tightens around Mickey and Gus, pulling in their issues with addiction, self-esteem, and their parents. Ahead of the season premiere, Vulture sat down with Rust, Jacobs, and co-creator Judd Apatow to talk about the dangers of dating creative people, writing dialogue that doesn’t sound overwritten, and why the hell Mickey and Gus stick together.
At the end of the first season, Mickey and Gus realize that they probably shouldn’t be in a relationship. What’s keeping them together in the second season?
Gillian Jacobs: I think season two is them giving it a go. I think you see them at their best and their worst. They are, I think, choosing to ignore red flags that are obvious to the audience. You get to see them getting along and enjoying each other’s company and then also just terrible things happen.
Paul Rust: That’s the fun of having characters who are self-aware. It makes it more interesting when that person knows it and ignores it. It’s not “will they or won’t they?” It’s “should or shouldn’t they?”
Do you worry that people might not relate to these characters? They’ve gotten to a level where they know they’re making the wrong decision and they keep making it anyway.
Judd Apatow: Well, Carmela [in The Sopranos] hung in there for a while with Tony. [Laughs.] She wanted to go off with the priest.
PR: I always liked the Mad Men philosophy where people don’t really change. The fun challenge in writing TV is, how can you have them grow from episode to episode without it feeling like they’re learning a lesson every time?
GJ: Season two gives more of a context and understanding as to why these characters are the way they are. They are trying to make it work, which doesn’t mean that they still aren’t their own worst enemies. You get to see that they do get along. They do enjoy each other. I’ve certainly been guilty of staying in relationships for too long that I knew needed to end, so I think that’s a pretty human experience.
PR: The thing that I like about Judd’s work is that usually there are no bad guys. A lot of time, it’s just people getting in the way of themselves. I recognize that’s not always people’s cup of tea. It is something that’s born out of therapy, in which you go, “Oh, right. I’m my own worst enemy. I can’t blame anybody else.” So definitely, we try to put that in the writing.
Speaking of therapy, it’s always the parents. This season, we meet Mickey’s dad and that’s a hard episode for her, especially because Gus doesn’t understand their relationship. How did you figure out Mickey’s relationship with her dad?
GJ: I loved the dad episode. Daniel Stern [who plays Mickey’s father] was so good. Hopefully, it’ll give you empathy for Mickey as to what she was shaping herself against, and then also some of his behaviors that she’s taken on that she might not entirely be conscious of. Those childhood wounds never fully heal, and so dad comes into town and kinda pokes at ’em.
When you have a difficult parent who can be charming on the surface level, it’s really hard for other people to see why you’re so hurt by them or frustrated with them. It’s a very common experience of [having someone say], “I don’t get what you’re talking about. They seem great.” That’s the most angering thing. You just want to be taken at your word.
JA: It’s usually the fun parents.
GJ: I think Gus falls into a common trap of trying to impress the parent, thinking that the best thing he can do in that situation is win him over rather than being there for Mickey.
PR: I think Gus is seeing it as a way to make the person feel better, but it ends up making the other person feel worse, which is always an interesting bind to put a character in. It’s really what happens when you meet somebody’s parent. I’ll fall over backwards trying to have the parent like me. If anything, sometimes you’re more attractive if the parent doesn’t like you.
GJ: The “fuck you, daddy!” boyfriend.
It’s hard to watch Mickey this season. She keeps putting herself in situations that she knows are going to be triggering and bad for her, simply because she wants to go along with things. Like the episode where she gets Gus and Bertie to do mushrooms.
GJ: I feel like Mickey is thinking she still can do everything on her own terms. She’s more committed to the program, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t be around [drugs]. She has ideas about what it would mean for her to be sober that she’s rebelling against. Maybe deep down she has this insecurity that, if she’s not the wild, fun one, no one will want to spend time with her. As much as she pushed Bertie away in season one, she desperately wants Bertie to like her.
Gus finally gets to have his episode of Witchita. How seriously are you taking his professional life and ambitions?
PR: I think it’s more interesting to see Gus struggle with his career, because I don’t want to write a character who’s a writer and everybody’s going like, “He’s awesome! He’s a really great writer!” You gotta put somebody in a spot where they’re fucking up and choking.
GJ: I kept asking them, “What does Mickey think of Gus’s writing? What does she think of the episode of Witchita? Does she think it’s good?” That’s also a thing when you’re dating somebody who’s a creative person, that fear of “Am I going to like what they do? What do I say if I didn’t like the thing they made?”
PR: That’s always the first thing I’m attracted to. I’m married now, but I fell in love with my wife because she was talented. Talent, it’s the big one. [Laughs.]
There are a lot of similar shows about creative people in L.A. or New York in relationships. Compared to many of those, Love has fewer hard jokes. How do you calibrate the tone of the show?
JA: We just try to be as real as we can be. That’s the aesthetic of the show. Every show has to pick their joke pitch and their reality levels. We said, “Let’s see how real this can get.” Then, hopefully life is funny enough that if you just accurately portray it, there’ll be comedy. But it is weird to even put a label on like this because, I guess it’s a comedy, but the truth is we don’t even really write it like a comedy. We try to write it dramatically and then decide what might be funny.
Is that a difference of how you work in the writers room?
JA: Yeah, because we’re not grinding line by line like, “We must top this!” I worked on that animated show The Critic and we would sit for sometimes for an hour on a line. On this show, if we spend that much time on it, you would feel the writing. I think the show works best if there’s no sense that someone wrote it.
PR: Dave King, one of our writers, said, “It’s as easy as just taking a sentence that you would say on TV and then adding in some umms and uhhs.” If you read scripts, you would see people rarely speak like that in real life, in complete sentences. I remember when I saw Knocked Up, thinking, “Oh, you can get jokes out of the fact that these characters in this world are funny.” I think that’s where we get some comedy out of the show, too. If you met her in life, you’d go, “Mickey’s funny. She cracks me up.”
GJ: Those are fun scenes to do with like Claudia [O’Doherty, who plays Mickey’s roommate Bertie], where we enjoy each other’s company. It was fun to come to this show after six years of doing Community, which I think is a brilliant show, but a very different style. It’s fun to do something where I released myself of the burden of trying to be funny. The writing is funny. The situations are funny. I’m just going to play it straight.
The episodes in this season seem to be shorter than the first season’s. Was that a conscious change?
JA: I don’t think that we made a conscious effort to make them shorter. We liked the idea that we had some play. Very early on, we said to Netflix, “If one of these just happens to be long, is that okay?” and they’re like, “Yeah. We don’t care.” It’s going into the digital black hole anyway. Most people are watching at least like two to four [episodes] at a time. The story can be whatever length is appropriate.
PR: I wrote on the fourth season of Arrested Development. You could tell in the writers room, everybody felt so liberated by, “Oh, we don’t have to have these act breaks that we’re struggling to get to and episodes can go longer than 30 minutes.”
Is there a point where you worry about going too slow?
JA: Well, we’re trying to make [the episodes] all super-entertaining and engaging. For some of them we think, “Let’s see how funny this one can be.” Another one we might think, “Let’s just try to get into the feeling of what it’s like to fall in love.” Each one has its own rules.
So you’re still working within an episode-by-episode structure?
JA: Yeah, they’re all movies. We’re aware there’s a jigsaw puzzle, and if you watch it all at once, it should play out like a six-hour movie.
PR: We have the same DP for every episode, Mark Schwartzbard, who’s amazing. You can get consistency between each episode just by the look of it, too.
Since the show is on Netflix, you don’t get the same kind of ratings as elsewhere. What kind of feedback do you get, from Netflix and from viewers in general?
JA: Netflix is like, “We didn’t think anything would beat House of Cards, but you did it.” [Laughs.] That’s the only call I get.
PR: The responses are great. I mean it’s nice getting to talk to couples, who you find out had a fight over the episode.
JA: Breakups in couples!
PR: If we could break up some relationships, we’ve done our work.
JA: You know how they break up? They watch an episode and then the woman turns to the man and goes, “You’re so like him.”
PR [to Gillian]: You’ve heard good responses? Your mom like it?
GJ: My mom does like it. I was so embarrassed because my mom came to the premiere and Mickey has some sex scenes in episode one. I sort of blocked that out until it was happening and then I reached over and tried to cover her eyes. But my mom was very cool about it. She’s like, “It’s just a show. It’s just a character.”