Anna Kendrick’s new series “Love Life” dropped onto the latest streaming platform, HBO Max, with a three-episode premiere about Darby Carter, a young woman looking for what so many young women are after: an actual connection amidst a landscape of cheap dates and empty hookups. “Love Life,” created by Sam Boyd, takes an interesting approach, tracking the relationships of Kendrick’s amiable Darby individual by individual.
In this respect, as well as in how each episode is named for a person with whom she’s had a relationship, it possesses a certain “High Fidelity” feel. But instead of brooding in reflection and regret, “Love Life” is charming, sweet, and not nearly as jaded as one might expect. Each episode brings with it a hopefulness that relationships built on meaningful connections are actually possible—even if there end up being a lot of them.
“Love Life” is narrated by Lesley Manville, whose posh sounding British voice gives the series an air of authority (to American ears anyway). In the first episode, we’re told, “Our love lives can quite easily be reduced to data. For instance, by the time the average person ends up with the love of their life, they will have been in seven relationships. Of those, two are often long-term relationships, while the rest are a mix of short-term flings, casual dating, and one-night stands. The average person will also fall in love two of those times, and have their heart broken twice as well.”
We trust this voice. We think it’s smarter than us. And so, we believe it when it says, “It will all happen for her, just not the way she thinks it will.”
According to Boyd, the idea of bringing in all the stats is to provide the show a structure—making it something of a case study for love, hookups, and breakups. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, co-showrunner Bridget Bedard says, “I don’t think we want people to think that we’re building our story on this foundation of the exact science of a relationship or anything like that. It’s supposed to feel lighter than that, a more poetic way of saying, ‘Everybody goes through a lot of [relationships] before they figure out who they are and who they should be with.’”
The tone of the show is light. Coming in at the half-hour mark, episodes are bite-sized and digestible. As is to be expected with Kendrick, she’s likable and fun, so watching her go through the trials and tribulations of relationships as she readies herself to give love another try gives her an authentic and endearing quality. It’s hard not to want her to succeed.
It’s because of this almost airy quality that the show can come off as lacking a certain emotional depth. “Love Life” never wants to be too down on how hard it is to date in New York, a complaint long uttered by single women across this great metropolis. Instead, it offers a wee bit of hope that even in a time of numerous hookup apps, real love is possible.
Instead of releasing the whole season all at once, or sticking TV’s old-fashioned appointment viewing model, HBO streamed only the first three episodes. What’s nice about this is that, as you watch it, you can be assured that none of your friends have jumped ahead and watched the whole series. This means no one is waiting for you to catch up. The first three episodes offer a glimpse into what the series has in store. Darby’s best friends are given a little development and love and we receive some insight into the flaws that keep us empathizing with her.
The first episode begins back to right before the Obama years. During a birthday party, Darby meets Augie Jeong (Jin Ha). He’s the first man of the series to capture her heart when they both peruse a karaoke song menu together then end up singing all night.
There is a moment at the karaoke bar when Augie notices that Darby’s friend Sara (Zoe Chao) is rather drunk and Darby remarks that she drinks like that every night. “So, she’s an alcoholic,” Augie says. “No,” Darby replies, “I mean, if we were older, but now she’s just like ‘so fun!’”
This brief moment has some important things to say, not just about drinking and carousing, but the way that we frequently shun the consequences of our romantica actions.
In our youth, we think we can plan for love. Instead, we need to realize love often has a plan for us.
Darby and Augie’s relationship quickly morphs into the realm of domestic as well as romantic intimacy. It’s a testament to the show’s quality that while we know at the end of the episode it will all be over, it’s still interesting to watch, and we’re still rooting for the relationship to work. After episode one, there are nine more episodes with nine more relationships, before we find out who Darby finally ends up with.
On their last night together, before Augie sets out on a journalistic adventure embedded with the Obama campaign, the pair have it out. Darby is upset, understandably, since Augie will leave the next day for good. Unable to hold it in, Augie asks, with irritation, “what are you doing right now?” “I’m having feelings,” Darby replies. And for a fleeting moment, the audience does too, showing that while the show is adept at skating the surface, it can touch the heart as well.
The mid-2010s New York City portrayed in “Love Life” is almost a little heartbreaking. Rooftop afternoon beer parties, running into old friends on the street that you haven’t seen in years, and singing karaoke with random, are so un-pandemic and non-socially-distanced that those scenes will fill many a quarantiner with longings for life as it was.
When every tomorrow is another endless extension of today, and it’s hard to even fantasize about when we might be able to make actual plans again, a good series like “Love Life” does something else important in these times. It gives us something to look forward to—even if it’s just another episode. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.