“Netflix and chill” may be a euphemism for sex, but we’re guessing that viewers who just binged the second season of Love (which premiered Friday on the subscription TV service) were thinking more about getting to L.A. than getting laid.
While Love has a lot going for it, it’s not the kind of show that inspires lusty aspirations or even romantic illusions. The relationships depicted are messy and the people involved are damaged. The hook-ups and hump-a-thons aren’t really that hot, either. But what does make this show so seductive — in addition to the Judd Apatow–approved, pop culture–driven hip-quip dialog — is its setting. Glamorized yet often maligned and usually misrepresented in film and on TV, Los Angeles and the different kinds of people who live and love here finally get explored in a real and nuanced way.
Actor-writer Paul Rust, who plays male lead Gus, co-created the show with his wife, Lesley Arfin, as well as Apatow, and made a conscious decision to feature the city in a fresh way via the show's filming locations. “[Apatow] pushed us a lot to come up with places that the characters would go to in L.A.,” Rust says via conference call with co-star Gillian Jacobs, the day of the premiere. “We especially wanted to use sites we haven’t seen represented on TV as 'L.A.' before.”
From the Short Stop–adjacent gas station and mini-mart in Echo Park where the lead characters first meet to an enchanting date at the Magic Castle, the show made use of and highlighted the city’s quirkier locales in season one. In the second season's first few episodes alone, we see familiar backdrops such as Silver Lake taco stand extraordinaire El Siete Mares and the Griffin in Atwater Village.
“It goes hand in hand [location and story]. Judd is a mogul, and rightfully so, it opens those doors. The Magic Castle, which previously has been a difficult location for people to shoot in, well, Judd's name sort of opened up the door,” Rust says.
“I was shocked that we got to shoot there,” Jacobs adds. “The Magic Castle is not a place that people know nationally, but as soon as you move to L.A. you hear people talk about it. It was perfect that it was a date-night spot on the show. “
Like Entourage’s hot spot–heavy backdrops or Sex and the City’s New York ones, Love's L.A. locales often steal scenes and speak to the characters' lifestyles. They aren’t used gratuitously and aren't presented in a way that’s overtly self-conscious or cliche. The characters go to the places we all go when we live here and often make no mention of where they are, which makes it more like Apatow and Lena Dunham's Girls. The sense of place has a realistic feel but in a more “real” way than an unscripted show such as Real Housewives or The Kardashians.
Viewers might find other things this season “so L.A.” When we left off last season, Mickey came to the realization that she had both substance-abuse issues and sex-addiction leanings. From the beginning she came off as irresponsible and flakey, but she seemed to be figuring it out and opted to attempt sobriety via a 12-step program. This season, though she initially wanted to cool things off with Gus, they instead decide to embark on the relationship while she grapples with her addictions. For anyone who’s dated someone or done the complex personal journey required in AA and NA — the daily meetings and off-the-wagon/on-the-wagon-again struggles, etc. — her arc’s frustrating and funny moments will be familiar.
“One of the locations on the show is a place where they actually do have meetings. L.A. people in programs will recognize the location,” says Jacobs, who moved to L.A. to join the sitcom Community and is originally from Pittsburgh. “It’s not unique to Los Angeles, but maybe 12-step people are more open to talking about it here? People are more open. I've been accused by my friends of burying the lede of what's going on my own life. Even though I lived in New York for college, I don’t remember being as aware of 12-step programs as I was in L.A.”
“It’s the idea of self-examination,” adds Rust, who’s lived in L.A. since 2004. “Being able to look at the ways we get in our own way. It's interesting, people in L.A. have the ability to do that. You could ask if it's because it’s a city of narcissists. Are people primed and ready because it's concerning their favorite subject: themselves? I grew up in Iowa, and there is a difference in terms of comfort level somebody might have talking about what their hang-ups are. It does get easier here. ”
“Getting sober is one challenge, but all your issues aren’t fixed once you achieve sobriety. Mickey is a person who would benefit from individual therapy in addition to the 12-step program she's in,” Jacobs chimes in. “She just has these behavioral ruts. You get to meet her dad this season and you can see some of her issues came from childhood. Getting sober is sort of just the beginning for her. “
Rust says the mindset of the “fixer guy” is a common dynamic and that Gus illustrates it in a pretty textbook way. “It’s the mentality that guys think they have the right way to do things a lot of the time,” he notes.
“Gus is learning from the relationship. At first he thinks, 'I'm the healthy one,' and she is the unhealthy one but as the show goes on, he's starting to learn that it's not that simple,” explains Rust. “If anything, he realizes that Mickey is the braver, more courageous person who's going, 'I recognize stuff that I have to work on and I'm working on it.' Gus is further behind in terms of his development because he hasn’t even looked at how he's getting in the way of himself.”
Gus’ likeability (or lack thereof) and moreso his abiliy to attract a girl like Mickey has been the subject of much debate in the blogosphere. Wiry and bespeckled, Gus (like Rust) has a “nerdy” look and demeanor, and many argue that he would not be able to get a hottie like Jacobs in real life, which reflects the unrealistic expectations and representation of women in entertainment. But Mickey is no prize. She may be the more physically attractive of the pair, but attraction, especially these days, is subjective. The “nerds” are the “hipsters” now anyway, aren't they? Does the disparity seem more striking because the show is set in looks-conscious L.A.? It was a delicate question, but I had to ask Rust about it.
“I acknowledge that people have that response, and I try to dismiss it as much as possible,” he says. “For me, I've been cast a lot of times in those [nerd] parts, and what I attempt to do with Love, if anything, is to show the dark side of a character like that. I feel like too often these characters aren’t examined. … Some of the biggest assholes I’ve met are nerdy dudes who are super entitled and opinionated.”
As for looks, he says, “It's been a challenge for me my whole life in that my insides don’t necessarily match my outsides. … People try to strike up a conversation with me about Dungeons & Dragons or comic books and I'm like, I can't, I'm sorry.”
“I never thought about the way I look nearly as much as I did when I came to L.A. and tried to get work in film and TV,” Jacobs says. “Working as an actress gives you a very heightened awareness and you are very blatantly judged on your looks. It's not really something you can escape.”
When it comes to dating in L.A., Mickey and Gus’ resolve to be together despite their obvious differences, or at least to put in the time to figure it out, may be the one thing that doesn’t ring so true for a lot of people in the big city, especially people in their early 30s. “It seems like people are always looking for and asking themselves if there is somebody better out there, or thinking, ‘I'm gonna see what's next, rather than committing and being in a long-term relationship,'” Jacobs observes. “I'm not sure. I've never really been single on the town in L.A. and I don’t drink, so bars were never a thing for me. “
As Love illustrates, neither self-help, self-reflection nor sobriety can guarantee a successful relationship, in any city. There’s chemistry, mutual respect and willingness to put in the work involved. Throughout both seasons it's pretty clear the characters are trying to figure out if they are meant to be together as they navigate their lives and figure out who they are. Living in a city like Los Angeles, where there are more distractions, more people and places, not to mention professional challenges to contend with, only makes it harder. In season two, we don’t really know whether to root for the pair to stay together or break up, and that might be the point. Love is a hearty hate-watch for some and an honest portrayal of coupling for others. For some (me), it's a love letter to Los Angeles. Whatever it is, it's generated a lot of buzz so it looks like it will be around for a while. It will probably take a few seasons to figure out where Mickey and Gus are really going, but without spoiling anything, season two seems to suggest the show's name might be ironic.