Is it real? What does it take to make love work? Netflix’s Love by Judd Apatow, Paul Rust, and Leslie Arfin raises some important questions. What takes an attraction farther than a romantic fantasy? What allows two people who’ve been hurt in the past to get beyond the fear of being hurt again? Sometimes we don’t know how to ask these questions. Sometimes we ask them after a relationship fails. Yet, there’s always a next time and it’s never too late to find the answers. In ten episodes, we get to know Gus Cruikshank (Paul Rust) and Mickey Dobbs (Gillian Jacobs) as they stumble into liking each other with all the difficulties that entails, for each of them. They first meet at the “We Got It! Food Mart,” both reeling from the difficult end of their last relationships.
A DANCE OF INSECURITES
Gus and Mickey are both scared of being unwanted. They do different things to manage their insecurities. Gus bends over backwards to be “nice.” Mickey runs from her fears with drugs, alcohol, and the pretense she’s “too cool” to care.
Gus, “the nice guy”
Being a nice guy is not a bad thing if it doesn’t mean self-sacrifice. Gus is so afraid of standing up for what he wants he can’t even try to negotiate for the orange rug when his girlfriend, Natalie (Milana Vayntrub) insists on blue. He must be sure he’ll be rejected if he doesn’t give in. We first meet Gus telling Natalie repeatedly that he loves her. She clearly feels suffocated, pushes him away, and lies that she slept with another guy. In their breaking-up fight, she accuses him of being “fake nice” and presses him to be true to himself. He finally admits: “Ok, I wish you would fucking die.” Yet he thinks so little of himself that he moves into temporary dwellings. If Natalie decides she wants him, he can “bop right out of Springfield, back to her.
Mickey, “the wild chid”
Mickey expects just as little from love. Episode 1 begins with her coke-addicted boyfriend Eric (Kyle Kinane) barging through her bedroom door late one night. She acts as if she could care less about anything more than a quick “fuck.” Yet as the 1st season of Love unfolds it’s clear that’s far from the truth. Her party girl persona is self-protection against insecurities about not being loved. Mickey’s seemingly nonchalant air collapses when Eric rushes out the door early the next morning. His mom is honking outside and he’s in a hurry to go shopping for new pants. Mickey runs screaming after him. When he leaves anyway (“What’s the problem? I need pants,”) she tells him it’s over. To deal with her upset, she downs an Ambien provided by her drug-encouraging neighbor.
“We Got It! Food Mart” is the place both Mickey and Gus end up after a lonely night. Sounds simple enough. “We got it, you can have it.” But love isn’t that easy to come by for Mickey or Gus. Hoping for love has ruined Mickey’s life. The cashier doesn’t make things easier. She’s forgotten her wallet. Hungover from the Ambien, Mickey needs coffee desperately. The cashier won’t cut her any slack. When she pleads with him to let her have the coffee, she lives down the block, she’ll just run home and be right back, he knows she’s good for it, she’s in there all the time – he says coldly: “This isn’t a charity.” Gus, overhearing, steps in and offers to pay. She asks for a package of cigarettes too. He doesn’t refuse. Leaving the market, they spend some time together and, surprisingly for both, enjoy each other’s company. We hear auspicious background lyrics: “We are meant to be together.” Are they?
That feeling of “meant to be” isn’t enough to get any relationship off the ground. And, through the rest of Season 1, Mickey and Gus do a dance of insecurities. It starts with Mickey. She likes him but pretends she doesn’t. Gus likes Mickey but thinks she’s too cool for a nerdy guy like him. When she isn’t terribly responsive, he becomes anxious and withdraws. We see this dance play out when Mickey invites Gus to a party in the hills (Episode 4). He shows up early, she’s late. She won’t admit her interest; he thinks she doesn’t care. She watches him jam musically with her friends and asks him to go outside.
Having fun playing, he puts off her invitation. She decides to say hello to an ex-boyfriend. He talks to another girl. They can’t get their signals straight. Unable to admit her interest and believing she’s not good enough, she sets Gus up on a disastrous date (Episode 5) with Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), her also very nice roommate. During the entire date, she obsessively color-codes her books and feels left out. Later, angry but thinking Mickey’s too hip for him, Gus confesses: “I like you and I don’t like being ‘a nice guy’ and pawned off on another girl. I know what this is … it’s cool. A pleasure to meet you. Bye.”
BYE? IS IT?
Suddenly in tears, Mickey runs outside and jumps in front of his car to stop him from leaving. Frightened, Gus opens the window and she kisses him. Driving off, he ruminates out loud: “What the fuck was that?” They don’t get together easily, though. Scared, after making tentative plans, Mickey runs off on a drug binge with a grey-haired druggie named Andy (Andy Dick). After their wild night, she admits: “I got scared. This dude is nice and sweet and funny and I’m like this piece of shit. I just wanted to save him from me.” She can’t imagine Gus, or anyone, could love her.
Mickey and Gus finally go on a real date (Episode 7) to the Magic Castle. Gus wants to believe in magic (which we later see played out in a romantic fantasy with a buxom blonde actress named, Heidi (Briga Heelan). Mickey doesn’t believe in magic at all: “I just feel there’s a trick to it.” Being tricked is her deepest fear about opening up to love. Of course, magic doesn’t exist in any relationship. There’s no romantic ideal or magical oneness. Love shows this in real-time. There are special moments, such as singing along with Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun” played by Irma, the ghostly piano player. Or making love for the first time that night. She’s opened herself up. So has he.
This is risky business for both. The ending credit lyrics forewarn more complications ahead: “I wonder why you love me, baby, I hardly love myself at all. I think we’re both a little wary … we need a little therapy, that’s all.” After their night together, Mickey doesn’t readily accept Gus’ invitation to a theme song party at his house. He doesn’t text her the next day.
FIGHTING IT OUT
Panicked and feeling rejected, Mickey tries every which way to get something from Gus – apologizing, showing up unannounced at the party she refused and also at his work. Both places, she sees him with the blonde actress, Heidi, who seductively makes Gus feel the desirable man he doesn’t believe he is. Heidi’s a fantasy. Mickey’s all too human, just as he is. Desperate for answers about what she did “wrong”, Mickey can’t leave him alone. They fight. She calls Gus a “huge dick” for having sex with her and dropping out of sight. He accuses her of pretending to be the cool girl and then getting “clingy” like all the rest.
Their hurtful accusations don’t end until Mickey finally takes her turn at laying it on the line: “I like you and you can’t handle it.” Their timing couldn’t be more off. But, at the end of Season 1, Heidi coldly tells Gus it was “just a set crush.” Both Mickey and Gus are alone again. Gus’ Instagram post pops up on Mickey’s feed, photos of a bare refrigerator and cupboards: “Need supplies so I can eat myself into a sugar coma.” She rushes out to the “We Got It! Food Mart,” knowing he will be there. The look on Gus’ face is: “You again?” Crying, Mickey spills out the truth: she’s an alcoholic, a drug addict; a sex and love addict. She tells him she needs time to sort this all out: “In a year, if you’re willing, I’d love to get, maybe, a coffee.” He grabs her and they kiss. The first season of Love is over.
WILL THEY MAKE IT?
Both Mickey and Gus do need a little therapy. But, with or without therapy, they can’t expect anything close to perfection from each other. They also can’t continue to go for the jugular and say unnecessarily hurtful things. They’ll have to learn not to take each other’s insecure reactions personally. If they can sensitively and honestly talk things out and help each other with their fears, they just might find their way to a real kind of love. Only Season 2 of Netflix’s Love will tell.