At this point, Love is a show that can do no wrong in my eyes. I love that it moves slowly. I love that the characters have jobs, and that they seem to spend a decent amount of time there. Mostly, though, I love that no matter how low it goes—no matter how awkward it gets, no matter how many bad decisions the characters make—I know that some shade of redemption is close at hand. It is, after all, called Love.
I remember watching the first episode last year. My wife and I were looking for lighter fare, something charming. The promos promised as much. But we were both a little put-off by the first episode—there was a lot of almost-funny but mostly uncomfortable sex, and the two leads weren’t that endearing. Mickey was awkward and seemed to think her craziness was kinda cute; Gus was a classroom case of juvenile clichés—the nice guy who always finishes last. When the credits rolled, though, Gus and Mickey still hadn’t met. A little strange for a rom-com, no? This was the first hint that Love was no ordinary love. For the first forty minutes (and basically for the entire first season), Gus and Mickey had been orbiting one another—circling closer and closer to the cringeworthy (but fateful) moment when they would finally intersect at a convenience store for a squirmy meet-cute that was 95% meet and 5% cute. It was only later that I decided to keep watching.
And I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way I found myself charmed.
Season 2—all episodes streaming now—continues to be the light fare we were hoping for in the beginning. But also, a feast packaged in a potato chips bag. Its half-hour episodes are so easy to munch on; you don’t have to pay very close attention. And although so many shows in this Golden Age of Television feature broken human beings in a broken world learning about their brokenness, brokenly, Love is particularly adept on this front, leisurely inching its way through the highs and lows of relationships–walking with us through the good, and especially the bad.
Let’s start with the first half of the love connection, Mickey. In the first season, her story arc ends with her admitting that she’s an addict: a drug addict, a sex and love addict, and an alcoholic. The second season shows her living out this reality: going to meetings, choosing a sponsor, deciding who to tell and who not to tell, and dealing with their reactions—reactions both immediate (“Oh my God”) and longterm (“So…how’s it going?”). And although she handles conflict surprisingly well in the first half of season 2, it’s not long before her crazy unshackles itself and begins to shake things up.
It’s true that in many ways we’re all Mickey. Everyone does things they regret. Sometimes we do things which are, as AA would say, insane: things that we can’t explain, things that we wouldn’t have wanted to do—“for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rm 7).
A somewhat benign example of this came to me the other night when I swatted a fly—on a vase of flowers. The vase crashed horizontal into the coffee table; I saw, as if in slow motion, flowers sailing across the room, water spewing onto the walls and soaking into a pile of beautiful drawings my wife had just finished; it didn’t help that she had harvested and arranged those flowers herself. If there was ever a time to think before I acted, that would have been the time. Cringing, I turned to see her appraising the scene with wide, horrified eyes. “I shouldn’t have done that, right?” Later, as I was watching Love, I realized what a “Mickey” move this was when in episode 9 she smashes a crystal bowl for no reason.
My point is, Mickey effectively serves as the on-screen follow-through of our own inner wrestlings. Her lack of control gestures towards those moments when our wills and our actions seem grossly misaligned. And yet. While some may find their situations equally as thunderous as Mickey’s (attending 12-step meetings, discussing the ups-and-downs of recovery with Andy Dick, etc.) most of us experience quieter, more subtle expressions of original sin.
Thus: Gus. He is the character to whom most of us will best relate. Maintaining a high-filter, a polite demeanor, and a Midwestern mask of naivety—Gus creates just as much conflict as Mickey when it comes to their relationship. Spend a few episodes with him, and it becomes clear: he’s not as much a victim as he’d have you think. His ick becomes incontestable in the second half of Season 2, where we find him keeping a “considerate” hawk-eye on Mickey’s sobriety (mild spoilers ahead). On her thirtieth day sober, he sends her thirty flowers to celebrate, writing, “Here’s to thirty more.” Baffled, she looks at the bouquet and says, “That’s a shit ton of flowers.” (Which reminds me, lots of cussing on this show.)
In short, Gus is a control freak. He has all his limbs stretched out to keep the building blocks of his life story in place, the story that he’s told himself, about himself, in which he’s basically a good guy, fundamentally a nice person, always putting his best foot forward. He sees himself as someone useful to Mickey’s recovery, and that once he helps her stabilize her footing, they will be happy together.
In episode 10—aptly titled “Liberty Down”—Gus martyrs himself by turning down a huge job opportunity, for which he’d have to move away to New York. When he tells Mickey what he did—for her—she looks offended.
Gus: I’m just saying—I’m making sacrifices to make this [relationship] work.
Mickey: No, you don’t get points for something you decided was a sacrifice, in your head, that I never would have asked you to do.
Christianity holds that sin has been distributed evenly—that all fall short, regardless of religion, race, class, and morals. Gus’s sin is his inability to see that he is just as much a part of the problem as Mickey. Not understanding that he, too, needs to be completely re-done—as he thinks Mickey does—Gus believes he’s on the right track but could stand to have better luck. Essentially, Jesus. It turns out that Mickey, with all her issues, is the only thing strong enough to crack open Gus to the truth about himself; and he comes slowly back down to earth.
At the end of episode 11, homesickness takes Gus to church, where the votive candles’ butane lighter is empty. He then follows the signs to an Al-Anon meeting where—to his surprise—he finds that the serenity prayer is as much for him as it is for Mickey. He, too, has to learn to accept the things he cannot change.
It’s not just this subtle uncovering of sin that makes Love a good show. It’s many things. It’s the humor. The craziness. But mostly it’s the cradling of both sin and redemption; of stupidity and levity. Love portrays the heights of a relationship emerging alongside the depths. Clips of Mickey sleeping with another guy are spliced alongside clips of Gus praying at Al-Anon. The most awkward scenes are also the most tender.
Love illustrates how, when it comes to the day ahead, we are powerless: we have no idea what it will hold for us or who we will become. But no matter how bad it gets, no matter how crazy, no matter how many mistakes or half-lies we tell, the title of the show is and always will be Love. The end is promised, and it will be good.