Love Life (2021)

Television Series #2:

“Love Life” (2021) takes the romantic comedy genre and pieces together an anthology of stories which, when woven together, create a narrative that looks at the interpersonal relationships of one woman in her quest for love, success and self-esteem. Created by Bridget Bedard (“Transparent”), Sam Boyd, Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids“), Dan Magnante and Anna Kendrick, who also stars in the series. It was released on HBO Max and each episode is followed by a brief discussion with the creative team on what the episode meant to them, how it was constructed and why. Marketed with the flare of a typical rom-com, it was at risk of being just as bland and unoriginal as “Emily in Paris” (2020) or simply just redundant. It was neither. Each episode focused on a different formative relationship, romantic or otherwise, in the life of Darby Carter (Kendrick), and consequently help our lead arrive at thoughtfully soft-pedalled life lessons.

Beginning in her early twenties, Darby falls in and out of short lived relationships, curating her personality the same way she would like to curate an art museum one day, highlighting the good parts and discreetly hiding the traits accordingly. When drafting these ill-fated romances, the writers were intentional about clarifying that the men were never monsters, but bad timing, insecurity and failing to know oneself makes for inevitable dissolution. One of the most satisfying aspects of this series is to watch Darby grow, developing a stronger sense of self, learning to understand her own boundaries and prioritize her ambitions. Not only do many of these challenges relate to romance, but also her pursuit of her desired career. A tour guide at the Met, she feels stagnant and frustrated, which is only exacerbated when she surrounds herself with people who have a more matured vantage point than herself.

She lives with a group of roommates whom she also considers her best friends: Sara Yang (the vibrant Zoë Chao), her long-term boyfriend Jim (Peter Vack), and Mallory Moore (Sasha Compère). The tight knit group is supportive and sincere, often acting as a sidelined sounding board for Darby’s latest love interest. In one conversation, Sara encourages Darby to make sure that men love her as her “derpy self.” Throughout the season, their friendships are explored as they move from their twenties to their thirties and life takes them on starkly different paths. How do you maintain strong bonds when the things that once connected you fade? How do you continue to care about people when they become toxic to your life? How does the trajectory of one persons life cause another to develop a negative perception of their own? Coming to a height during a fun (stacked with a strong female cast) episode taking place at a bachelorette party weekend getaway, these questions are fleshed out in affectionate ways.

Darby has a complicated relationship with her family, as seen incrementally throughout the series, and one episode, “Love Life” takes a look at the dynamic between her mother (Hope Davis as Claudia Hoffman) and her. As is such with so many mother-daughter relationships, the two struggle to connect in constructive ways, leaving them in a constant state of bickering, resentment or separation. Davis’ character felt like the mom who raised many of us, and the story serves to illuminate the fact that often times a persons ability to cultivate positive relationships with others begins with those of their own parentage. Breaking through those communication barriers can be the first step in setting oneself free from those damaging patterns, which we get to see in the experiences of these characters.

“Love Life” does a brilliant job of understanding the human desire to find ones “person” and develop the security which that might bring, without ever placing the effect of romantic love on a pedestal. True love starts with oneself, and the energy that a person puts into caring for their own mental health, developing skills and hobbies, working towards a fulfilling career, and so on, will ultimately lead to a fulfilling life, and finding mutual love often times comes as a result of having found the best version of yourself to attract the best person for you. It is a profoundly encouraging, accessible and genuinely delightful show that feels like the type of program you could return to and re-watch countless times. It is also worth nothing that there is a highly anticipated Season 2, led by “The Good Place” star William Jackson Harper.

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