Take any screenwriting course worth its salt and a basic rule for writing is this: conflict drives the plot. However, conflicts need resolutions, and the job of the screenwriter is to find the elements set up in the first part of the story and find a way of resolving them at the end. Season 3 of the Netflix series “Love” excels in conflict. Indeed, the entire premise of “boy meets girl” is complicated by the fact that the boy is a clingy, pushover whose ever-present smile masks a darker side. And the girl is an emotional mess of a person who is trying to recover from substance abuse — while trying to keep her abusive side in check. The boy is Gus (played by show co-creator, Paul Rust), and the girl is Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) — who make up an unlikely couple whose relationship ups and downs are the center of the story. Gus is a teacher of child actors on the set of a teen witch show called “Witchita,” while Mickey works as a producer for a popular satellite radio sex talk show. We’ve seen two seasons where Gus and Mickey’s professional life has moments of advancement, but in this season, it’s clear Mickey’s career is taking off as the show she produces gets more airtime. Gus? Well, he’s kind of stuck. He wants to write screenplays, maybe direct movies, but he’s been pigeonholed into a role of obsequious movie set teacher who is at the beck and call of his superiors (who really can’t stand him, but keep him around because he does what they say). The tensions in Gus’ personal and professional life manifest themselves in a road rage incident, in meeting an old girlfriend at a wedding (one of the better episodes featuring a very moving performance by Vanessa Bayer), in his effort to direct a short film, and just being kicked around at his job (which he’s really hating, but represses it).
In a way, Season 3 is about revealing the dysfunctions in Gus’ life. Rust plays him with a near-constant veneer of Midwestern charm. But underneath the fake smiles and willingness to “help” in whatever way he can, masks a deep resentment that his life didn’t turn out the way he hoped. Mickey, for the most part, is trying not be the horrible person she started out as, but she can only contain her monstrous personality for so long, and she does lapse into destructive rages at times during this season. As a recovering alcoholic, she tries to tamp down the temptations of drinking by smoking — but even that’s a habit she’s trying to break. In short, Mickey is making an effort to be what she alluded to towards the end of Season 2 when she confessed to her ex-boyfriend Dustin (Rich Sommer): “Honestly, some part of me doesn’t want to deal with big career responsibilities. I just want to get married, have kids, and live a simple life…I just want a happy family, erase the bad one, and give my kids the fucking awesome childhood I never had.” Mickey doesn’t see that future happening with Dustin. But with Gus? He has potential to be a good husband and a great father.
Gus, though, is not sure Mickey is someone he can trust to be a good mom. He’s suppressed his feelings about Mickey’s addictions, her volatile personality, and if she really loves him. All this comes out toward the end of the series when Gus takes Mickey back to South Dakota for his mom and dad’s 40th wedding anniversary. There, it’s revealed how Gus got tracked into teaching and how his promising career in the movie industry was thwarted by an unfortunate email. It took three seasons, but we finally get to see Gus resolve some of the conflicts in his life. In a way, we get to see Mickey do the same, and — in an episode that’s one of the best — we also get a storyline devoted to one of the best characters in the series, Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty). Most of the character arcs don’t really get resolved in to “Happily ever after,” but that’s not the point “Love.” It’s about damaged people understanding what love is in their own messed up lives. Credit goes to show producers Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust for developing the natural progression (and regression) of the characters and for creating some truly funny situations (and, alas, some that fall flat) in a series that I found both maddening and compelling. I’ve never worked in film or TV in Hollywood, but if Apatow and company are reflecting what they have experienced, forget all that “Hollywood Liberal” stuff. This industry is stacked head to toe with Grade A Assholes. I supposed the fallout with Harvey Weinstein’s scandal (and others like it) should confirm what most know: When it comes to an industry where careers are made on personal relationships — and not one’s credentials — it’s shouldn’t surprise anyone that such a culture is ripe for exploitation on many levels. That’s what put me off the first season so much. The level of assholery among some of the central supporting characters was so high at times, that I wondered why they labeled this a comedy. However, over to course of three seasons, “Love” did what other shows like it (i.e., “Girls”) struggle to do: make the viewer care about annoying and somewhat unlovable characters in such a way that we hope they live happily ever after. The show never gives us that assurance, but it does leave us thinking, “Hey, it could happen.”