Anthology series are the best of both worlds. The audience gets a continuing story but doesn’t have to worry about getting bored by the same couple or same group of people week in and week out. Yes, anthologies are sometimes a bit of a crapshoot, especially when the episodes are only thirty minutes in length, but Amazon’s new series Modern Love manages to walk the line between annoying and refreshing with varying results.
The series revolves around eight couples all tied together with the universal theme of “love.” Platonic love, complicated love, love (and acceptance) of oneself, love grown cold, older love, parental love, and so forth. A few concepts work better than others and, honestly, the series could have done without episode six, but without a doubt, this is a series that does something I’ve never seen before and there were plenty of tears and laughter along the way.
“When The Door Man is Your Main Man”
Starring Cristin Milioti and Laurentiu Possa
Episode one introduces the audience to Maggie and Guzmin. Maggie is a twenty-something-year-old who’s moved to New York and lives by herself in a rather nice building with a doorman. Guzmin is ex-military and the two share an intense bond. Guzmin sees himself as Maggie’s protector, keeping her from less than stellar boyfriends. But even Guzmin’s impeccable radar can’t keep Maggie from becoming pregnant with the wrong guy and he becomes the steady influence in her life as she vows to have the baby and be a single mother.
Milioti and Possa have adorable chemistry and starting off the series with an intense platonic love story (which could be something more depending on how one looks at it) was an interesting and satisfying move on writer John Carney’s part. It was the strongest story of the eight episodes and it was elevated by Milioti and Possa.
It’s no secret that I am a sucker for proper May/December relationships of any kind and Carney fulfilled my expectation and then launched it to the stratosphere. Guzmin and Maggie are goals, no matter how the audience views them. Truthfully, I wish they were something more, but the family dynamics between Guzmin, Maggie, and Maggie’s child left me with a smile and the hope that one day Maggie would come to her senses about her doorman turned confidant and best friend.
“When Cupid is a Prying Journalist”
Starring Dev Patel and Catherine Keener
Patel plays Joshua, an up and coming CEO of a popular dating app. Keener plays Julie, a journalist telling his story. Being a journalist, Julie sees that there’s something more to Joshua and his life and love life. What follows is a heart-wrenching exploration of lost love, redemption, how to move on from an unfulfilled life and marriage.
Patel has an effortless charm to him, especially as Josua. He commands the screen and lends weight to the otherwise generic story of boy meets girl, girl cheats on boy, boy leaves girl, story. Keener, of course, is always magnetic and her story with surprise guest star Andy Garcia almost redeems the first half of the episode, but ultimately, this was the second weakest episode of the bunch. I will admit that despite the weak and generic story from both characters, I did cry at the end so I suppose I’m not entirely heartless.
“Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am”
Starring Anne Hathaway
Self-love is a hard story to tell for television, but Carney deftly manages to tell the story of Lexi, a woman who struggles to make connections or keep jobs because she’s bipolar. Her brief fling with the lovely Jeff (Gary Carr) makes Lexi realize that something in her life has to change and change she does and in the process, she learns to love her chemical imbalance.
This episode was by far the most powerful one of the entire bunch. I was a sobbing mess at the end. Quincy Tyler Bernstine steals the show as Lexi’s friend Sylvia who sees past Lexi’s bipolar and sees the person she is underneath it all. She’s also part of Lexi’s realization process. She opens up to Sylvia when she never could before and it’s a tense, emotional, rollercoaster ride. Hathaway shines as Lexi and a part of me wishes I could’ve gotten more episodes with her.
“Rallying to Keep the Game Alive”
Starring John Slattery and Tina Fey
Writer and director Sharon Horgan shows the audience Dennis and Sarah’s failing marriage. Dennis is an actor and Sarah is his wife and through couples counseling, the pair learn how to play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses via the thrilling game of tennis.
This is another weak episode, in my opinion. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been particularly impressed with Slattery. Maybe it was the banality and familiarity of the narrative which is a narrative I’ve seen a hundred times before. I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t like this episode. I felt that it didn’t fit with the quirkiness of the rest of the episodes in some small way. I will admit that I would love to see Fey in a well-written drama. Her acting in this episode blew me away and while there were comedic moments, this was Fey at her most dramatic and I enjoyed it.
“At the Hospital, An Interlude of Clarity”
Starring Sofia Boutella and John Gallagher Jr.
Yasmin (Boutella) and Rob (Gallagher) are opposites in every sense of the word. Rob is awkward and rather adorable. Yasmin is vivacious and bubbly and drop-dead gorgeous. Somehow they end up together at Rob’s apartment and he proves he has absolutely no game. He has so little game, the pair of them end up at the hospital because he falls on a martini glass and has to have surgery.
I’m a sucker for quirky relationships as well as quirky stories where things don’t always the way they’re “supposed” to and this episode is an example of that. It was the quirkiest episode of the eight and I loved the chemistry between Boutella and Gallagher. Writer Tom Hall amps up the quirk but also manages to bring levity to the story via Yasmin and her insecurities and her past.
“So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?”
Starring Julia Garner and Shea Whigham
Girl has daddy issues. Girl forges a complicated relationship with her much older boss. Ickiness ensues.
One could skip this episode and not miss a dang thing. I’m sick of the tired daddy issues trope. For once, I would love a series about modern love to give the proper glory to a May/December romance that is obviously a romance. Episode one is a step in the right direction, but this episode took something promising and threw it out the window. May/December romances are still romances. They fall into the modern love category and yet, here they get shafted. It’s disappointing, to say the least.
“Hers Was a World Of One”
Starring Olivia Cooke, Andrew Scott, and Brandon Kyle Goodman
Tobin and Andy are a gay couple who want to adopt a child. On their journey, they meet Karla. Karla is a woman who is homeless by choice. The three of them strike up an unconventional family dynamic as Karla is set to have the baby they’re going to adopt.
Cooke and Scott are the stars of this episode. Hands down. Scott’s turn as the uptight, uncertain Tobin made me admire his acting prowess even more than I already do. He dominated the story and commanded the screen with a vigor that made me realize that this man is award’s material and by god, he has a lot coming his way if he keeps this up.
“The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap”
Starring James Saito and Jane Alexander
“Older” love is the star of this episode. Margot is a runner who meets Kenji, or Ken, while doing a fun run for older people. They fall in love and then Ken sadly dies. At the funeral, Margot reminds the audience that older love is just as real and emotional as young love.
The story only takes up about half of this episode while the other half is reserved for a truly surprising turn of events that I was not expecting. It’s another weak episode but the surprise more than makes up for it. It’s a fitting end to a series that is as much a triumph as it is slightly disappointing. I would have loved to have seen more kinds of love and I would’ve loved to have seen more “older” love. But overall, Modern Love is a refreshing take on a TV series about love and I couldn’t be happier that Amazon gave it to us to enjoy.