The Netflix series “Love,” now in its second season, takes you inside the budding relationship of two smart, funny, emotionally messy people (Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust). It is not always a comfortable place, but it never stops being interesting, thanks to an attention to detail that compensates, in its observational power, for the series’ lack of narrative thrust.
“Love” is very deliberately paced. The first two seasons’ 23 half-hour episodes cover only the first two months of a relationship between Mickey (Jacobs) and Gus (Rust), leaving no moment in their courtship unturned. We are made privy to every anxious text message, premature romantic overture and self-protective instinct to pull away. There’s also the occasional episode in which the pair spend a carefree day together, and we can soak up the great chemistry between Jacobs (“Community”) and Rust, who created the series with his wife, Lesley Arpin, and Judd Apatow.
One character goes out of town to work. Otherwise, “Love” is uneventful plot-wise. Some would call it meandering. Or Apatow-ian, in honor of the director of funny but slack-paced films (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Trainwreck”) and producer of navel-gazing, wheel-spinning TV (“Girls”).
“Love” inspires binge-viewing anyway, because 80 percent of its characters’ behavior will be recognizable to any viewer who has embarked on a new romance. The other 20 percent compels as well, because Jacobs and Rust are razor-sharp presences. Though Mickey and Gus exist within an ostensibly laid-back Los Angeles hipster milieu – he wears Adidas track jackets, she drives a vintage Mercedes – each is wound tightly.
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Mickey, a radio network project manager, comes off at the start as caustic and worldly wise – the kind of woman who would hold slightly dangerous appeal to Gus, a nerdy on-set tutor. They meet at a convenience store, where Gus gallantly pays for Mickey’s coffee because she forgot her wallet. They end up spending the day together. They smoke pot, gab amiably and encounter Gus’ ex, who had accused polite Midwestern native Gus of being “fake nice” instead of genuine.
This observation will resonate as Rust reveals an obstinate streak beneath Gus’ aw-shucks demeanor. Mickey, despite her bravado, is the more vulnerable one here, since she is battling longtime addictions. Jacobs gives Mickey a haunted quality that deepens in the second season, when Mickey shows greater self-awareness than Gus does.
Neither character is good or bad, just complex and prone to the unruly emotions strong attraction can inspire. Though little seems to occur in the series on an episode-to-episode basis, something big happens incrementally: love.
Season 2 is streaming on Netflix