Love Life

This show got mixed reviews.

So I pulled up HBO Max on the Roku to watch a legendary drama that I’m not going to name, because I’ll just get feedback telling me to watch it. But before I dug in, I decided to check out the offerings. I do this on the streaming apps on a regular basis, I want to know the landscape. And I saw a line listing HBO Max originals. This intrigued me, because I didn’t think there were many. However I could scroll and there were more than I thought. And many I knew. But what was “Love Life”?

I clicked through to see. It was a relationship show. I love those. So I decided to watch.

There was a British woman doing the voiceover so I believed it was a U.K. show. Then again, when the characters started to speak, they were definitely American, and the show took place in New York City. As for the lead, I’d never seen her before. She was cute, and she was imperfect. She had a bump in her nose, not very big, but when she turned sideways, you could see it, and usually these comedies, which is what “Love Life” turned out to be, are peopled by 10’s. Quite often as a result of surgery, but they’re unbelievably beautiful, better looking than anybody you went to high school with. And if you’re further down the looks scale, you’re the butt of jokes, or the smartest one in the room. Yes, stereotypes.

And I can’t figure out who this lead actress, who is so damn good, is. So I stop the show and look her up.

It’s Anna Kendrick. Oh yes, now I can see it. Why couldn’t I see it previously? Maybe it’s the hair. And I always considered Kendrick a serious actress, I first encountered her in the George Clooney vehicle “Up in the Air.” I thought she was slumming in the “Pitch Perfect” movies, which I’ve never seen, but as I scanned her filmography, I found much of her work was in flicks not considered highbrow.

Oh, one other thing. In this show Anna is incredibly skinny. Yes, she’s short, but you can see her thigh gap, her legs are like sticks. Can I say all that? I don’t think so, in today’s world it’s called “objectification.” Then again, they’re selling us looks in these shows, although much less in the foreign series I tend to watch. So I google to see if Kendrick has anorexia. I find no links, but I do end up viewing a clip of “Pitch Perfect” and she’s ultra-skinny there too. And if she’s this skinny on screen… How much can Anna Kendrick eat, she must be hungry all the time. What kind of message are they sending to women?

So, you can compare “Love Life” to “Sex and the City.” But unlike Sarah Jessica Parker, Anna Kendrick is believable in the role. Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original “Sex and the City” articles, was a smoky bombshell. All you had to do was look at her, and especially after she spoke, you got it, Bushnell radiates sexuality. Parker does not. Parker can be sunny and cute, but sexy is not what she’s selling. Not that Kendrick is selling sexiness in “Love Life,” she’s selling personality, she’s wholly alive, imperfect, but you’re drawn to her.

So in the first episode, Kendrick has a one night stand. The guy gets her digits but never texts. Oh, the agony. We’ve all felt it. Nothing else matters, are they gonna reach out? This is depicted so well in the show. And then there’s the issue whether you can take the initiative, especially if you’re a woman.

So, Kendrick ends up having a relationship with someone who places their job first and having had too much to drink, the two of them get into it. This is another place we’ve all been. The evening started out fine, then the liquor flowed, and what comes out shouldn’t. Kendrick’s significant other labels her a “tour guide” and she takes offense. Certain things cut to the bone, certain things you can’t take back.

And the relationship ends.

And I’m not sure if this is a show where every episode is a new guy, or whether they’re building to a lasting relationship that leads to marriage and children and… Am I gonna watch another episode?

I do further research. On RottenTomatoes “Love Life” blows 64% on the critics meter, and 83% on the audience one. I prefer the reverse, I tend to trust the critics. Streaming TV is laden with popular shows that people love that are pure dreck. And all the reviews say the show is “slight.” Hmm…not a ringing endorsement. So I decide to go further, I decide to read the actual reviews, however dangerous that might be. Dangerous because reviews are legendary for revealing the entire plot. I start at the bottom, with the conclusion, I try to read as little as possible to get a feel for whether the reviewer is thumbs up or down.

And most of the critics are laughing at the show. Kind of snide. Except for one. And now I’m torn. Are the critics right and I should move on, or are they so jaded they can’t see genius? Well, not exactly genius, but that which deserves attention.

You see “Love Life” gets relationship nuances down cold. In a way I rarely see.

And most streaming is crime focused. Or thriller. Comedies are rare. And “Love Life” is not “Ted Lasso,” where what appears to be shooting low is actually playing on a higher level. “Love Life” is straightforward, it either works on the surface or it does not.

But it does!

Screw the critics, I’ll watch another episode.

And in episode two Kendrick gets involved with her ex-boss. This happens all the time. The guy has a crush, but not until circumstances change do they act on it. And Anna is a good girl, but not so good she won’t go with the flow, sex is not taboo. But is he really, officially divorced? You’d be stunned how many people say they are and are not. And until they are, you don’t want to be involved with them, they haven’t gotten over the final hump which affects you so deeply, even though those in the process are unaware of or deny this.

And Anna is going with the flow until…

Like a good girlfriend, she accompanies her boyfriend to the suburban house where he grew up for his dad’s wake.

No, there’s something that happens before that! Kendrick and boyfriend are eating dinner at a restaurant, having a good time, and a woman approaches the table and the boyfriend instantly falls into a comfortable conversation with her and…never bothers to introduce Kendrick. This can be a faux pas, but it can also be a sign, that you’re just not that important to them, or they’re ashamed of you.

But Kendrick is game and engages this woman, who complains about her work, even though she’s playing at quite a high level. And then this woman asks Kendrick what she does for a living and Anna has to lie, and then the other woman picks up on this lie and says they’ve got to get together to talk business and…thank god this woman finally gets up and leaves.

Kendrick feels inadequate. She’s working catering jobs. Is she just a wannabe? She thought she was doing so well, living in the city, having this boyfriend, but is she really nowhere? Her boyfriend and his woman friend seem so grown up, Anna puts them on a pedestal and can’t quite tear them down, as she’s still sharing an apartment with roommates, trying to get it together.

So at the wake… The boyfriend doesn’t introduce her again. And she’s lost, but trying to do her best in a situation where she’s got no reason to be there other than the connection with the boyfriend. She does her best, is game, introduces herself to someone, but they don’t care, they punch the clock on her. And then Kendrick decides to help out in the kitchen, but then the family treats her like the help! And then Kendrick has too much to drink and…

The ex-wife shows up.

And the family treats the ex-wife like a goddess. The ex-wife tells an off-color story and the room erupts in laughter. Kendrick stands up and tells a story and you expect her to make a fool of herself, having had too many drinks, but the truth is what she says is ultimately poignant, well done, but there are crickets, no one reacts, there is silence.

And then the boyfriend ends up dumping her. He tells her he just isn’t ready for a new relationship, even though the two of them have been together for months.

And Kendrick returns to the flat where her roommates are shocked to see her, they haven’t seen her in such a long while, they thought she was gone forever. This is how it happens in young love, you put your friends aside, and then you find out you need them. Oh, that’s another scene, where this ex-boss boyfriend, who is not that much older than her friends, is bored and acting sheepish around them. He doesn’t want to party, he came all the way from Brooklyn and paid for everybody’s dinner, can he just go home and sleep?

I’ve been there too. On his side. You’re involved with someone younger, you think you’re hitting it off, and then they want to do something you outgrew years ago, what do you do?

As you can tell, I’m really enjoying “Love Life.” I couldn’t fall asleep thinking about it. I could have burned through all ten episodes last night.

And that’s the funny thing about all the reviews, all the critics complain and then say they ended up watching all the episodes. Why? No one said it was a hate-watch, they just couldn’t let go. You don’t find this kind of truth everywhere.

But maybe the series gets worse. Maybe I’ll stop watching.

But why was there no buzz on “Love Life”?

Because it was released last spring, as the first HBO Max original. And it being HBO critics expected brilliance and with so few subscribers at the time, people didn’t even have access, there couldn’t be any word of mouth, if there was even gonna be any.

You know whether this is your kind of show. Don’t put it down and call it a rom-com, because that’s not what it is, it’s not a chick show, it’s a relationship show, about the interaction of men and women. And that’s ultimately what it comes down to. You know the paradigm. The couple has been together for years and then one spouse wants to leave, saying they’re sick of getting no attention, of having the other work all the time. And what does the overworking spouse always say? For sure, one thing they never say is good riddance! No, they start falling on their sword, they say they’ll change. And if given a chance they backslide. And after the inevitable breakup, without a relationship, they’re devastated, they can barely function, all they can focus on is what they’ve lost.

So you know whether you want to check out “Love Life” or not. Either what I’ve said above has intrigued you or it has not.

As for HBO Max, it’s now on the Roku. The streaming device of choice. Sure, I watched on the iPad app before, but now it’s so much easier. As for a subscription…chances are you have one anyway. Because HBO is oftentimes baked into a cable offering. That’s the way they tier them. Chances are you’re not paying the fifteen buck retail price, which has me scratching my head why AT&T doesn’t lower the HBO Max price, but my point is you probably have access. Download the app and sync your subscription. It used to be harder, but let me just prepare you… You want your cable company e-mail address and password, and you want your smartphone in your hand.

Maybe you’ll like “Love Life.”

So far I’m loving it!

Comments are closed