Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschman: Apatow's Love lacking a good dose of heart

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Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) are enjoyable as Love's mismatched might-be couple.
Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) are enjoyable as Love's mismatched might-be couple.

Stop me if you've heard this one before; guy meets girl, guy likes girl, complications emerge and then you've still got eight more episodes of "will they/won't they" romance to binge through.

Well, that's Love, a new Netflix series from superstar producer/director/writer Judd Apatow. It's hardly an outrageous call to suggest that you may have seen something similar to this before.

Where Love differs, however, is ... actually, I'm not sure if it does differentiate itself particularly. Granted, I'm only four episodes into its 10-episode first season run. But going by the early innings it's fairly standard, Apatow-style, rom-com fare.

Yes, the series' name tips off what we're gonna be dealing with. But that title, so large in consequence and so heavy in meaning, promises something more. Something pointed. Something weighty. Like, say, an arrow-pierced human heart.

Instead, Love is breezy and mostly amusing. Feelings that I doubt would have inspired the great poets half as much, but a combo that has proved fertile grounds for Apatow throughout the years.

Back in the 2000s his movies popularised the "bromance" genre and built an empire around life's big moments, coming of age in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, becoming a parent in Knocked Up, and having a midlife crisis in This is 40.

As well as his own stories he's also acted as a wise, albeit penis-obsessed, spirit guide for younger talents. Enabling people like Seth Rogen, Amy Schumer, Kristen Wiig, Jason Segel and Lena Dunham to tell theirs. Without him there's no Bridesmaids, no Superbad, no Girls. Apatow is very much chronicling what it means to be white and well-off, but still a little bit flaky, in the 21st century.

Love is more of the same. It's about a niceguy nerd named Gus, played by series co-creator Paul Rust, chasing Mickey, a screwed up hottie played by Gillian Jacobs (Community).

Both have showbiz jobs (him a dweebish onset tutor to a bratty child TV star, her a dysfunctional producer for a radio psychologist), nice apartments and between them almost the whole gamut of white-people problems - like low confidence, credit card debt, a broken heart and self-destructive tendencies.

Okay, I'm being flip. But that matches the tone of the series. There's no denying that Love is a good show. It's well-acted, entertaining and incredibly watchable, especially in the gorge-yourself viewing method that Netflix encourages. But that's all it is.

There's none of the social commentary that elevated Aziz Ansari's Master of None, there's none of the sly subversion Tina Fey brought to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, nor are there any of the brutally honest reflections that power Girls through its best moments.

There's just no underlying point to it. And it has nothing, really, to say. Apatow is at his best when running with a topic or theme. Love, it seems, has got the better of him.

Well, we all know it's complicated. And there's no shame in providing light entertainment. After a hard day's work I'm more likely to reach for the latest issue of Batman than a heavy tome from Tolstoy.

So approaching Love strictly as a comedy, rather than anything more, then yeah, it's mostly a success.

Essentially, it's an extended Apatow film, with all the good and the bad that description entails. There's witty dialogue, occasional bursts of outright hilarity, a superb filmic quality to its extremely gentrified depiction of Los Angeles and an Apatow family member in a starring role.

So with no underlying statements or bigger-issue ruminations to get in the way the whole show rests on how much you're rooting for Gus and Mickey to get together. But as he's nerdy and needy and she's a vodka-swilling, Ambien-popping trainwreck, not only are they clearly mismatched from the get-go, they also both seem fairly incapable of love.

Factor in that we're watching them get together - or not! - then the show should really be called Dating. Or Nerd Lust. Or Friend Zone. What's love got to do with it?

I guess I'll find out. I've enjoyed the first half and want to see where these two crazy lovebirds end up.

It's just that from someone of Apatow's pedigree I expected more. Here we find him so far in his comfort zone that I can only compare the show to the open bathroom door of the long-term relationship.

A signifier of broad complacency that's slightly disappointing but ultimately not worth getting worked up about.

- NZ Herald

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Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

A pop culture junkie, Karl has spent his career writing about the important things in life; music, film, television, comics and video games. He was editor of a popular music rag for five years and has since written regularly for every local culture/arts/lifestyle magazine worth a damn. His recent expansion into travel writing has flung him far, far from the comfort of his couch and into that bewildering place known as the ‘outdoors’. He is also currently endeavouring to make sense of the world by reviewing it over at critikarlreviewstheworld.com

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