Review: “Love” Season 2

They say love is a fickle thing. It can be wonderfully pleasant initially. Sunshine on a cloudy day. The next instant it can be crushingly overbearing, an insufferable beast you only want to be rid of. The same can be said of the half-hour Netflix comedy “Love,” the second season of which premiered earlier this month.

The Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked-Up”) produced show follows a couple and their interactions with each other and their friends in Los Angeles. Gus (Paul Rust, who is also a writer on the show), is an awkward, socially-inept dork who tutors the star of a terrible fantasy sitcom on-set, while Mickey (Gillian Jacobs of “Community,” “Girls” is a drug-and-sex-addicted mess. The two of them also happen to have feelings for each other.

Such is the story of “Love” whose first season that was released last year (on Valentine’s Day, fittingly) was an excellent examination of what draws people together, while simultaneously being immensely endearing, sharply written, and quite funny. The new, second season is a continuation of all of these characteristics, but stripped down, often to the point of unenjoyability. Unlike that of the first season, which at least seemed grounded in reality, the writing in season two straddles the line of absurdity, and unbelievability.

This fault is indicated well in the first episode, which picks up literally right where the last season left of: with Gus and Mickey in an impassioned kiss at a gas station, despite having the mutual need to separate and work out their individual flaws (which made for a great, open-ended closer to season one). They travel back to Gus’ apartment, which becomes locked down by police because of a nearby robbery, and they are forced to stay with each other (how convenient). Upon attempting to escape, Gus is violently assaulted by police for being confused as the suspect. This scene, which is practically slapstick in its execution and draws parallels to the violent humor of lowest common denominator R-rated commons is a jarring change in tone from the last season, where the humor was often evoked from interactions between characters rather than one of them being tackled.

Unfortunately, this trend of seemingly dumbed-down writing persists through the rest of the season, hampering not only the humor of the show, but the character development and enjoyability as well. There are not only scenes, but entire episodes that solid mold and solidify dislike, if not outright hatred of certain characters. Of course this is a show where the characters are flawed and pathetic, but they at least came off as endearing and well-meaning in the last season. Here, everyone seems like they’ve burnt through a few brain cells, and seem hellbent on outdoing each other on stupid, rage-inducing decisions. I get that the characters are meant to be broken and “realistic,” but there is a line where this trait becomes insufferable and this season of “Love” crosses it several times over.

While the character development has flown off the rails, and the writing taken a dive, the show is still, surprisingly, not terrible. The show’s initial and remaining strengths are highlighted in a simple episode called “A Day,” in which Mickey and Gus, well, spend a day together, from getting lunch to a trip to the park. It’s an exercise in simplicity that markets how great the writing can be in this show, and how naturalized and realistic that show can be. It truly seems like you are just viewing an average day in the life of a couple. Unfortunately, this strength falters for the rest of the season as both of the main characters make increasingly poor decisions and become absurdly unlikable. Characters are allowed to be flawed, but this can be done well (see season 1) without sacrificing the entire likability of the characters. The final episode of the season in particular is a fury-inducing slew of bad decisions from the main characters that the main reason to return for season three becomes wanting to watch the characters crash and burn.

“Love” still has the potential to correct its course with the next season. Perhaps this one is just a sophomore slump. Nonetheless the dip in quality from the first to second season is palpable. There are still the inner workings of a great show here, it’s just a matter of whether they can dig it back up or not. Maybe “Love” can end up working, but if not, we’ll have to break it off.

6.5/10

Review: Bojack Horseman Season 3

With its third season, the animated Netflix original surrealist dramedy Bojack Horseman reaches stunning new heights with the unique mix of clever animal humor, and crushing existentialism more brilliant here than it has ever been. The dark parts of the story are darker, the funny parts are even funnier, and the result is certifiable proof that Bojack is one of the best shows currently on TV.

The season begins where it left off: with Bojack in the Oscar race for playing Secretariat (though most of the film was made without him). It’s all downhill from there, as Bojack’s hubris and lack of empathy drive him further away from his personal relationships.

The writing, while it struggled somewhat in season one, is fully on course now and top-notch. Nearly everything works this time around. Highlights include painfully accurate flashbacks to 2007 when the failed “Bojack Horseman Show” premiered, an absolutely brilliant episode that takes place underwater with almost no dialogue, a jaw-droppingly provocative episode on abortion (featuring the new pop hit “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus”), and, of course, a plethora of animal puns . While the show uses each of these premises to make a statement about current issues, whether it be one-off jokes or full episodes, it never feels heavy-handed, and it’s often laugh-out-loud hilarious.

In the latest few episodes however, Bojack hits rock bottom, and it’s even more gut-wrenching this it’s been before. The show expertly tackles topics like depression, addiction, loneliness and lost potential to extreme effect. As Bojack continues to sever each and every one of his relationships, ever going so far as to ruin a couple people’s lives, he’s faced with the fact that maybe he himself is the problem, and maybe there is no way out. The final scene of the season is artful in and of itself. I never thought a cartoon about a horse would cause me to tear up but here we are.

The final scene also includes a glimmer of hope that mayybe things will start to look up. There are some hints that maybe Bojack will have a way to redeem himself in the next season. Whatever happens, it will no doubt be thoroughly well written and nuanced, and, if it continues its upward trajectory as it has the past three years, Bojack Horseman could ween its way even farther into the ranks of excellent modern television.

9.6/10