It seems like few of the wildly successful cinematic comedies these days don’t have Judd Apatow’s touch. He’s been behind movies with Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell (think Anchorman), and of course Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and crew, whom he “discovered.” With the Netflix series Love, he has fully entered the digital TV world.
The entrepreneurial Apatow, 48, fell in love with comedy at an early age, and did what it took to land and stand out in the highly competitive scene.
The New Yorker washed dishes at the Long Island East Side Comedy Club and, while still in high school, hosted a program on school radio called “Comedy Club.” This was a way for him to learn from comedians he admired; he cold-called and managed to interview “Steve Allen, Howard Stern, Harold Ramis and John Candy, along with emerging comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright and Garry Shandling.” Apatow started doing stand-up comedy at age 17, dropped out of school, met and moved in with Adam Sandler, and met and became friends with Ben Stiller at a concert in 1990. Big shots spotted his talent and invited him to work on programs such as the Grammy Awards. Things snowballed from there.
His parents’ divorce provided fuel for his very ironic, slightly dark brand of comedy: “I started in Woodbury and then my parents divorced and we moved to Syosset, next door. Everyone in my neighborhood, they’d start out living in a big house and then their parents would divorce and they would move to a condo a mile away. The condos were filled with all the divorced families. I found a poem recently that I wrote when I was 15, called ‘Divorce.’ Then the next page is ‘Funny Stuff About Divorce.’ I tried to list what’s funny about it, but a lot of these things are really dark. It says ‘Charging stuff,’ because my mother would charge stuff on my dad’s credit card without permission. This is me trying to survive,” Apatow told the magazine Rolling Stone.
Although a movie lover, I rarely want to watch any single movie more than once or twice. But two of Apatow’s movies (Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) are on my short list of multiple repeats.
The basic plot in simple: Boy meets girl. Boy is average-looking (and even a bit geeky, twiggy or chubby). Girl is pretty and somehow in a bind, jumps too fast and makes a mistake, is drunk too often, or has got some other thorny (emotional) issues. Geeky guy gets with pretty girl. They get separated at some point but he ends up with her or another pretty girl, or at least with an unlikely sexual encounter to brag about. Plenty of cursing and sex-related stuff ensues. Geeky guy gets to do some really cool things you’d think he’d have no access to. (Though geeks, at least of the computer kind, rule the world now.) You find variations of this basic plot in most Apatow productions, sometimes as a subplot, like in Superbad (for all of us McLovin fans).
Apatow’s formula is not new, but is an improvement on what we saw in turn-of-the-21-century movies like the American Pie series and The New Guy. Perhaps unlike these two, Apatow’s movies manage to appeal to a wide range of audiences and age groups, with a keener understanding of real people and honest, unabashed look at relationships. It’s “filthy mind” taken up quite a few notches.
After having tried his hand at the small screen quite a few times, in mostly small spurts (except for the series Girls and earlier The Larry Sanders Show), Apatow presents Love to Netflix audiences. At first, I refused to watch it precisely because of the title. The theme is trite, to say the least. But I should’ve known better.
As I’d come to find out, Love offers a more realistic portrayal of love than pretty much any romantic comedy I’ve seen before, on the big or small screen.
Apatow, the series’s writer and producer, has outdone himself.
The plot: Mickey (Gillian Jacobs, on whom I have developed a girl crush) is a pretty (but flawed and relatable) 32-year-old who works as a producer in a radio station. She’s a largely high-functioning addict: to alcohol, sex and, well, love. She tries hard to kick her habits, like a dead-end relationship with a junkie/momma’s boy, but is having trouble. One day, hungover, she goes to buy a coffee at a gas station but has forgotten her money. She gets into an argument with the store clerk. Geeky-looking Gus (Paul Rust, co-creator of the series, along with his wife) steps in to spot her. She promises to pay him back right away – if he comes with her to get the money. They instantly click, and end up getting deeper into each other’s lives due to a series of (un)happy accidents. Gus’s pretty live-in-girlfriend has just left him and, as a serial monogamist, he may be anxious to rebound. He’s also flattered that Mickey seems interested in him, and that gives him a boost of confidence, which is a double-edged sword.
Enter a colorful constellation of characters, with different degrees of messiness in their lives. You may recognize one or more Love actors from past Apatow productions.
Unlike the usual Hollywood formula, these people are a bit screwed up, but (so far) not to the point of tragedy. Like real human beings, they can be nice, but also jerks. They don’t need a big moment of redemption to endear themselves to us, because we can relate to them as people.
Their start as a “couple” in Season 1 is accidental, messy, sometimes ambivalent, and even incompatible, annoying, and a little desperate. You’d never guess who turns out to be a bit of a stalker.
And yes, the geeky guy gets his moment in the sun with the ladies and a TV career. But maybe not for long. It’s a tough spot to hold on to. As a bonus, the audience gets an insight into what it’s like to work in an LA studio, for actors, writers and other staff such as Gus – an on-set tutor for child stars who writes scripts in his spare time and tries to land them on the show.
UPDATE: You can find seasons 1, 2 and 3 of Love on Netflix right now. Trivia fact: As of now, it’s the only Netflix series besides House of Cards where two seasons were ordered and slated even before it was released. I don’t want to accept that the 3rd is its last season!