Love Life

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

On paper, it would appear that romance has never been so simple. In reality, it’s never been so difficult.

For centuries, men and women had rules when they went a-courting. Sure, those rules were sometimes dizzyingly complex and, well, a bit strict, even by Plugged In’s standards. (Kiss on the first date? Men and women in Victorian times weren’t even supposed to hold handsduring the entire courtship. The only exception was if an aspirant wife tripped on a bumpy road, an aspirant husband could reach out his hand to steady her.)

But while the rulebook was often thick and sometimes a bit Byzantine, it did come with one big plus: consistency. Men and women knew, for the most part, what was expected of them. Boundaries were clearly defined (if sometimes ignored).

Today’s relationships have rules, to be sure … but we often make them up as we go.. For many, partners are not chosen simply from the opposite sex of a narrow social class, but from practically any member (or, plural, members) of a sentient species. First dates can be anything from a trip to the bowling alley to a trip to Bermuda. Relationships might spring up between people who, on one hand, may only see each other on social media, or on the other, only see each other in bed. Kiss on the first date? Puleeze. If things went OK, might as well sleep with ‘em.

Professions of love? Well, those come later. Often much later.

Should you want a primer about what a 21st-century romance looks like—or what certain entertainment producers think it looks like—you need go no further than HBO Max’s aptly named Love Life.

Love Is a Many Splintered Thing

HBO classifies Love Life as an anthology series, with each season examining a new central character and tracing his or her relationships to some sort of conclusion. We’re told that all the romances in play are critical to creating the person our protagonist becomes—or, even, who and what they’re meant to be.

First up: Darby Carter, played by the adorably charismatic Anna Kendrick. Her story begins with her first real relationship—when, the narrator helpfully explains, you’re not dressing to impress the person, but “you just wear what you’re wearing because you are who you are.” It culminates with a final, climactic romance—though whether she and her final beau (or belle) actually live happily ever after, is anyone’s guess.

While she changes out romantic partners every episode, Darby does have some constants in her life: her New York roomies Sara and Mallory, and her divorced and fractious parents. And perhaps with that strange dichotomy—where “soulmates” tag out every half-hour but friends and family are there for the long haul—HBO is offering a little lesson for us. Love Life could be suggesting that as important as romance is, and as much time as we devote to cultivating it (and getting over it if it goes south), our romantic partners aren’t the only influences in our lives, or not necessarily even the most important.

Then again, I may be overthinking things. In a shallow show like this, it seems unlikely that HBO is trying to teach anything at all.

The Love Rote

Love Life does give us a slight sense of purpose behind its narrative. It suggests that every relationship we embrace helps us to learn and grow. We may lose at love, but those very losses can equip us for the next relationship we have. For those of us who know what it’s like to hurt after a failed relationship—that’d be pretty much all of us—that’s an encouraging thought.

But even the show’s long-view optimism rubs against a God-centric view of love and marriage. In Love Life, relationships are ultimately about self-realization. But in God’s eyes, the focus is inherently on the other. While God wants would-be partners to ask, “what can I do for this person?” HBO asks, “what can this person do for me?”

And that’s, of course, only where the problems start.

It should surprise no one that Darby spends less time deciding whom to sleep with than she does on which brand of salad dressing to buy. She runs through a litany of hit-and-run encounters before she meets her first serious partner. And when Darby meets him, they sleep together on their first date. That’s hardly a unique happening here. In HBO’s world, you meet; you like each other; you have sex; and then maybe you might see each other again.

HBO isn’t shy about dealing with same-sex relationships, of course. While we’ve not seen Darby in a lesbian romance yet as of press time, the show’s episodic titles hint that one or two may come. Language is a massive issue for this TV-MA show, as well. And most of the characters enjoy a good drink or ten. Love Life is, perhaps, a little like some of Darby’s shorter-term beaus. Like those guys, this series has its points of attraction. But worth making a commitment to? Forget it.

Episode Reviews

May 27, 2020: ” Augie Jeong”

Darby meets Augie during a karaoke party. Afterward, he spends the night with her. That evening kicks off what Darby would consider her first real relationship. But when Augie receives a great career opportunity that’ll whisk him out of New York, the two wonder whether a long-distance relationship is feasible.

We see Augie and Darby in bed together. He apparently performs oral sex on her (she worries because she says she’s “sweaty down there”), and later Augie lies mostly above the covers, revealing some of his bare rear. (Darby, meanwhile, wears a shirt that covers everything.) Augie spends the night with her frequently thereafter, and we see him occasionally shirtless.

Darby has a series of one-night stands before Augie. We briefly see a couple of those breathless encounters (but don’t see anything explicit). Sara, one of Darby’s roommates, has a long-term boyfriend whom she plans to perform oral sex on for his birthday. (At a party, she frets that her boyfriend wants to have sex with another woman—even though she’s certain that he still loves her—and later makes out with him passionately as a way to, perhaps, ensure his fidelity to her.) In the show’s opening moments, we see a collage of different couples, including a pair of apparently naked men in bed together. (Both are strategically covered.) We also see a woman, wearing only panties, lying face down on a bed.

Darby tells Augie that her parents have been divorced for 20 years. Augie says his own parents were “high school sweethearts that are somehow still in love,” but jokes that “they’re Satanists, so I guess it’s not all good, right?” As a boy, Augie loved musical theater so much that his mom worried that he was gay. (She forced him to watch the movie Milk with her as a way to talk about the issue.)

As Darby works on cleaning out her nose, Augie walks into the bathroom and urinates in the toilet. (His back is to us, but one of Darby’s roommates accuses the both of them of being “disgusting.”) In a flashback to when Darby was a child, we see her walk home with a male student, then dash into the bushes later. (The narrator explains that she needed to take an “anxiety poo.”)

Darby says that Sara “can’t handle her liquor but she drinks every night anyway.” “So an alcoholic, then,” Augie says. (Darby says that if she was still engaging in the same habits years later, the term might qualify, but since they’re all still so young, it’s just fine.) Augie and Darby both drink, and both admit to drinking to excess. Someone jokes about sniffing bath salts. We see people drink wine, champagne and beer. Characters say the f-word 16 times and the s-word about four. We also hear one use each of “a–” and “p–sed.” God’s name is misused about 10 times.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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