Modern Love Season 1: Series Review

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Modern Love is an 8 episode Amazon Prime original anthology, inspired by true stories published in the New York Times Column of the same name. The episodes are a collection of hand-picked stories describing the  unique relationships different New Yorkers from different situations and backgrounds have had with love of different kinds. Being an anthology, each episode is a brand-new, independent take on what inevitably leads to an entirely different kind of love each time around. The show is written and directed by a group of people, the main writer and show-runner of which is the esteemed John Carney, writer and director of Begin Again, Sing Street, and Once. An all-star cast was recruited for the series, including Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, Andrew Scott, Tina Fey, Shea Whigham, Catherine Keener, and Andy Garcia to name just a few. The first season, which dropped mid-October this year, comprises of 8 half-hour long episodes. The show has been renewed for a second season, with John Carney set to continue as show-runner.

It was not lightly that I made the decision to put off, yet again, my promise of many moons ago to Aryamaan to watch Game of Thrones; the main reason I did was because of John Carney. John Carney is one of my favourite directors, not to mention the director of my favourite film of all time (Sing Street, by the way. Please, for the love of God, go watch that movie). Carney has, in my eyes, set the bar really quite high for himself, and with a cast like this one, I was looking forward to it.

Individually, the episodes of this show risk falling into a certain unfortunate trap. Anthologies do, in general, suffer from serious underdevelopment. A show like Black Mirror gets away with it because the ideas are larger than the characters, but the same can’t be said for Modern Love. Add on top of that a half-hour runtime per episode, and you get a very high risk for surface-level formula as opposed to a proper exploration of character and circumstance. This is certainly not true for every episode of the show. Realistically, of the 8, four are very good, two are excellent, and two are a little poor. The excellent and very good episodes do a masterful job of starting and finishing something over the course of the time period. Some really first-class writing, supported by even more first-class performances, do an impressive thing when they commit and audience the way they do in a half hour. A short timeframe is really one of the steepest challenges in writing. Standout episodes are the last one (get to that in a sec) and the second one, starring Patel and Keener. Extraordinarily written, just as well performed, and altogether deeply satisfying and heart-warming.

A couple episodes aren’t quite so well thought out. Tina Fey and John Slattery’s episode isn’t bad, but it suffers from a lack of focus and some slightly plastic-y acting on Slattery’s part. The real problem with that episode is pacing, the arc stays stagnant too long and comes full circle too suddenly. The “Dad” episode (anyone who’s seen the show knows exactly which one I’m talking about) is also a little better than its reputation. I’ll admit I’ve had more comfortable moments in my life than when I was watching that episode, but my problem here has less to do with what I was watching and more to do with the cringe-y and stale way it was brought out. Some really bad writing and some really bad performing failed to bring much life to some rushed and on-the-nose themes. That episode’s received some criticism for “daddy issues”, which is a little unfair in my opinion. The bottom line is these are inspired by very real things, and I don’t think anyone gets to thumb their nose at other people’s lives. The problem with this episode was the quality, not the content.

The trend is generally good though. The other four episodes all clock in at different places on the “very good” scale, some suffering from more minor developmental problems or a lack of subtlety (the first episode, mainly). Even those, however, are supplemented where they need to be by strong performances and interesting stylistic decisions. One way or another, most all of the stories add up to a good time and a heartfelt smile by the end.

But the last episode of the series proves something slightly more. Any prospective viewers beware: Do not, I repeat, do not watch the last episode of the show until you’ve seen all of the others.  The last episode places the rest in a wonderfully satisfying context, as though they’re all little pieces in a much larger jigsaw puzzle. Not connected; no, the writers have been true to the anthological promise, but just tangential enough to remind you that this show is about a bigger idea; just not the same one as Black Mirror. I don’t want to say too much, but suffice it to say the payoff is worth it and then some at the end of the last episode. Individually, these little stories are flawed entities, but the last fifteen minutes will fill your heart up enough to remember something larger than the individual stories.

Modern Love is not a perfect show. That said, you’ll be greeted by sincerity and warmth every step of the way, and by the end you’ll wish you could’ve had more. I’d strongly recommend giving it a watch, especially since it really is so easy to do. Half hour episodes are just asking to be watched, and with only 8 of them it doesn’t take more than days. I really think it’s worth it. Season 2 will be out sometime next year; until then, I’d give this one a chance.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 78/100                                                                               Aryamaan’s Score –

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