This series about love and life has its flaws — and so do I.
Photograph by Zach Dilgard/HBO Max
Contains mild spoilers for Love Life.
I didn’t want to write about Love Life.
For those who have yet to tune in, the HBO Max series follows Darby Carter (Anna Kendrick). Darby, similar to other tropey rom-com characters, is searching for love throughout her twenties and thirties. Yet like most twenty- and thirty-somethings, Darby struggles to love herself. If you’ve read my essays, you know this storyline is my ideal setting for a TV series, movie, or just about anything in life. But I didn’t plan on writing at length about this show, even after I claimed it was my favorite series of 2020.
I lived my dream when I started writing about sports in college: student by day, sports writer by morning and night. It wasn’t until I moved to Southern California for a full-time sports writing job that I realized writing about sports isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Media companies, after all, thrive on clicks. Off-the-field issues that have nothing to do with the games being played are click-worthy fodder. Despite everything I disliked about the company I worked for, I wasn’t watching as many sporting events as you might think a professional sports writer should — because I wrote non-stop during these events, and it’s hard to keep track of them when you’re endlessly writing during the action.
So how does this relate to Anna Kendrick’s character on arguably the best show of 2020?
I attempted — and succeeded — to transition from a content writer to a pop culture writer in 2020. Similar to sports writing at one point, it’s a dream come true as I write about my favorite shows and movies of past and present. But alas, when you have to point out every flaw or strength for the sake of doing so, the magic that’s writing about movies and shows tends to lose its luster. And I did not want Love Life to lose its luster — it’s a perfectly splendid show that depicts a dream-like New York City I one day hope to visit for the first time.
Yet the moment these words hit the page, is the moment the show becomes imperfect. And, yes, I do realize Love Life only carries a 64 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But did you realize HBO Max sped up the release schedule because of strong audience response?
Translation: People couldn’t wait for more Darby stories — and neither could I.
Like all shows, Love Life has a unique feel and vibe, especially with a British narrator (Lesley Manville) detailing thoughts and feelings throughout Darby’s saga. But it’s hard not to compare it to fellow rom-com legend Sex and the City. Because, you know, Sex and the City is also about… sex… in New York City. And it also entered the world on an earlier version of HBO. Although I love Sex and the City’s Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte, and of course, Carrie, Love Life is less glamorous.
Darby goes through real-life shit in a less far-fetched world. She also doesn’t thrive in one of the most expensive cities on the planet by pinching pennies on the scraps writers earn. Though, throughout Sex and the City, Carrie progresses in her career and makes more money.
Although Darby also progresses in her career as Love Life season 1 trucks along, she doesn’t become rich or famous for the sake of those things. She works her ass off on a dream that’s not as glamorous as penning a weekly column about sexual escapades. Carrie, unlike Darby, has the luxury of wearing the best attire to buzzing clubs and restaurants — all while living in a killer (and now iconic) Manhattan apartment.
No, that’s not Darby. Although, Love life is still naturally sprinkled with TV magic. Darby gets stuck in a debilitating relationship that starts strong, as most relationships do — and she lives in a small apartment while living out this nightmare.
I understand we’re all a little tired of watching attractive people go in and out of flings with equally attractive people before they find the person they’ll gladly spend the rest of their lives with, but Darby’s path is rockier than its predecessors and immediate successors (see: Emily in Paris, which I also enjoyed).
All friend groups talk about sex. There’s a reason why married couples try to live vicariously through their single friends. They ask simple questions such as, ‘Are you dating anyone,’ hoping for that sole question to morph into stories of raunchy one-night stands and other debauchery. Personally, I have no intention of getting married or having kids, but I digress.
Love Life is different because each episode is supposed to cover a different relationship, and some of these relationships are messy and toxic. That feels so real. Darby’s ending isn’t as cliché as, say, kissing a bunch of frogs and ending up with a prince — unless you redefine the definition of “prince.”
It’s an odd observation but Love Life was the first show I watched with my then-newly-acquired AirPods Pro. I don’t know if it was the quality of the headphones or the background noise was an intentional directing decision to make it seem like audience members were in a restaurant with the characters… But during restaurant scenes, I could pick up the clanking of plates and other mutterings around the main characters.
I love the subtle music that’s pumped into the atmosphere when Darby’s life is temporarily calm and quiet. Like when the hard-working Darby is still at her desk and everyone else has left the office. She’s almost at peace until her partner texts her, asking her where she has been in a negative and judgmental tone. She’s at work, you silly dickhead.
As a bona fide and self-proclaimed rom-com addict, I melt over the sappy scenes and happy endings that are supposed to jerk tears right from your eyes — and they do every time. Even if I don’t picture my happy ending with a significant other, I still appreciate other people falling in love and finding happiness. Call me a lovey-dovey dreamer, but other people’s happiness makes me happy.
I’ve slowly gotten my shit together, but I’m more like Darby’s best friend Sara Yang (Zoë Chao), who’s one of the best parts of Love Life. Sara is that friend who never quite grew up, which is cute and funny until you realize this person might never leave the party. That’s relatable. I know because I played that role for most of my twenties!
My favorite scene in Love Life is when one of Darby’s toxic relationships explodes. Because this is the moment when it’s evident that Darby is finally going to get out of this particular situation, even if she’s in a purgatory of her own making. She’s finally going to blow it all up and set herself free.
I’m over-sentimental indeed, but there’s nothing romantic or cheesy about a grown man calling a grown woman a “f**king crazy b**ch,” words spoken in my favorite scene by a pure shit-bag. Solely my favorite scene because Darby, once again, frees herself from the abuse.
I’m sick and tired of hearing about tall, successful, handsome men walking over people who are supposedly lesser than them, especially when force is involved. It exhausts me because that was most of my twenties. Being talked down to (figuratively and literally as I stand at a solid 5-foot-5) by delusional males who are supposedly better than me because they have some type of success that I don’t and probably will never have. I’m a half-Mexican male who can pass as white — and I’m no stranger to being gaslighted. In my own way, I can relate to what Darby is going through in her moment of freedom.
Similar to my all-time favorite shows and movies, which are usually romantic comedies or horrors, Love Life isn’t going to blow anyone away. It’s not going to live alongside pedestal TV series such as Mad Men or The Sopranos. I can’t stand people who rate and criticize movies and shows like that… ‘It’s good, but it’s not [fill in the blank with the most critically acclaimed movie or show of all time].’
This show about love and life has its flaws, and so do I.
Love Life is my new favorite series. But I didn’t want to write about Love Life. I just didn’t.