When I heard Love Life was releasing a second season this month, I had to rack my brain to recall what the show was even about. Landing right toward the end of Australia’s first lockdown, it fell in with all the other series we binged in our housebound fugues, like Tiger King and Normal People. Good shows, I just could not tell you anything about what happened in them, a year on.
But Love Life seems to know most of us watched, well, way too much TV in 2020. The first episode opens with us at Darby’s (Anna Kendrick) 2016 wedding to the terrible, awful Magnus. Darby! That’s right – a hopeless romantic navigating the world of love. At first, I thought this was a continuation of Darby’s story because I’d forgotten who Magnus was. But once I remembered, I saw what the series was doing – taking us back a little and veering us off into another direction.
We follow Marcus (The Good Place’s Emmy-nominated William Jackson Harper), a struggling book editor whose wife marginally knows the newly married couple. Our narrator (more on that in a second) tells us that the search for love is different for everyone, etc etc. Basically, we’re about to encounter an entirely different human being with entirely different complexities to both their personality and how they approach dating.
Marcus is a fantastic character. Married for ten years, we learn quickly that Marcus is having doubts about his marriage – his wife Emily (Maya Kazan) is white, and Marcus is questioning whether their love story is actually a love story, or whether it was a reaction to his overbearing parents who, he believes, would have preferred he marry a Black woman.
Marcus is also having a crisis of identity. He tells us he feels he’s always playing a role with people, moulding his personality to suit others. But who is he, really? He’s confronted with both these crises during the first episode by love interest Mia (Booksmart’s Jessica Williams), an effortlessly cool, self-assured wedding guest he meets while vaping outside. Then, later in the episode, he’s confronted again about whether he’s playing a role or being himself by a prospective Black author he’s wooing to sign at his publishing house, who baulks at his suggestion to tone down his book. The author tells Marcus he’s essentially trying to tone down Black culture, telling Marcus he’s “safe and nonthreatening”, like Obama.
The decision to have a Black man at the centre of season two is a testament to how far we’ve come in the past year with casting in film and television. Obviously, we still have a way to go, but Love Life doesn’t, thankfully, just put a Black actor into a role that doesn’t acknowledge the unique experiences only people of color have. Marcus is relatable on many levels to me, as a white woman – he is ambitious but stuck in a career plateau, he is questioning whether he is in a good marriage or just comfortable and unwilling to shake his life up, he is trying to break away from parental expectations while also making decisions that aren’t simply because of parental expectations.
However, he is also working through experiences I’ll never personally understand – yes, we can all relate to moulding our personalities to be likeable, but Marcus’ experience is unique to people of color because generations of oppression and the – often violent – pressure to assimilate into white culture comes into play. As Marcus battles between an affair with Mia and remaining faithful to Emily, one pivotal moment is when he asks his wife who he reminds her of – she says Obama, because he is always calm and in control. She doesn’t realize it, but it’s an offense to Marcus, who was just told critically that he is like Obama, “safe and nonthreatening”.
There are three episodes of Love Life available to stream now, and I’ve watched them all but for anti-spoilers sake, won’t go into the other two. But the season is looking damn good – I liked season one, but season two has, thankfully, not just presented us with a new protagonist but an entirely new experience.
Still, there are flaws. I forgot how much I can’t stand the narrator – I get that it’s meant to have us feeling like we are watching the story of someone’s life, with the events having already unfolded, but it’s jarring – it repeatedly reinforces that we are watching fiction, which doesn’t exactly immerse you in Marcus’ life.
I also wanted to see some more distinctly modern dating experiences. Marcus is working through a stagnant marriage, but that’s an age-old experience. What about the impact of social media on the way we love and date? The plethora of choice that in turn makes us paralysed? Commitment phobia, text-based relationships that don’t translate to real life. Darby in season one met so many of her love interests in the real world, but we don’t really experience dating that way anymore, for the most part. Again, we see Marcus meeting the people he dates via social events and chance happenings – it would be great to see more app-based dating complexities. Hopefully, they come as the season progresses.
Ultimately Love Life season two is shaping up to be even better than season one. While I enjoyed Darby’s journey toward a life partner, it really ran from first love to last love – I’m finding that having a protagonist who is reassessing his life (and love) at a mid-point raises the stakes, because Marcus isn’t just figuring out who he wants to live life with, but also who he is. He’s having a mid-life crisis, but the real kind – not the one where you buy a convertible.
Will Marcus end up with Mia, or was she just the chance meeting he needed to finally end an unhappy marriage? Will he end up back with Emily but in a fresh, healthy relationship? Or is there someone new on the horizon we’re yet to meet? This is the beauty at the heart of Love Life and why we keep coming back – we want to see Marcus’ story have a happy ending, and we’re never quite sure who will be at that ending with him.
Love Life is currently airing on HBO Max.