Modern Love 2 review: Amazon series returns with fewer bad eggs, more sugar; Kit Harington deserves rom-com franchise
Landing on Modern Love in 2019 was simple accident. Armed with a fresh Amazon Prime subscription, the heart was looking for something soothing, and this anthology of romances offered significant relief. However, like a pepperoni pizza made by a stingy chef, getting to the good bits meant biting through a lot of bland, cheesy parts. Out of eight episodes, only a couple left a lasting impression. Now, it’s still too early to figure out if the second season can be as impactful, but the improvement is undeniable.
Two years later, Modern Love returns with eight new, more relatable stories inspired by the popular The New York Times column, about love in New York City. There is more variety, too. The bad eggs are scarce and not as repulsive. Of course, the short, 30-minute runtime helps when the stinkier ones arrive, but it also feels like a tragically small time when you want to watch more of Kit Harington and Lucy Boynton’s Before Sunrise-but-make-it-Edgar Wright love story.
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The Game of Thrones star is adorable and electric, making a strong case for a rom-com franchise of his own in the sixth episode of the season, Train. Lucy Boynton, too, makes it instantly believable why someone would fall hopelessly in love with her over a short train ride. It’s the meet cute of most romantic kind as a techie and a medievalist bump into each other. There are impromptu songs, some stoner comedy, a lot of witty dialogue and what’s best is that it’s all set in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. The two, on their way back home on the cusp of a lockdown, decide to meet at the railway station two weeks later, giving each other not their phone numbers, but a chance at an old-school romance. However, the pandemic obviously had a longer stay in mind when it came visiting, without much concern for any cute love stories it may have destroyed.
The season’s biggest winner, however, is its second episode, How Do You Remember Me? It’s the classic, running ‘into your ex in the street' situation and in real time, spans only a couple of minutes.
The episode dives deep into the minds of two men (Marquis Rodriguez and Zane Pais) as they look at each other across the street and memories of that single, fiercely passionate but horribly-ended date come flooding back. The same first drinks, the first kiss and the sex that followed is shown twice, from either perspective, and so are the misunderstandings that ended their night and all possibilities of a future together. It’s an education most of us can use about how differently two people can feel in the same shared moment.
Everyone believes they are the ones being wronged and everyone tells themselves a different story, over time, to ease the guilt. Empathy is a word thrown around too easily and rarely ever understood. The editing can get a bit much to handle at times and the real time bit, of them walking to each other in the street could have been more creatively handled, too. However, the lasting effect is still of awe and slight guilt, like a friend politely letting you know how you aren’t the victim you are so convinced that you are.
Other episodes, featuring Minnie Driver driving through serpentine roads in her dead husband’s car, or Tobias Menzes as a man falling hopelessly in love with his ex-wife, can all seem like deliberate tear-jerkers but the execution is still authentic enough to make you forget how you’ve watched these stories more than few times before.
However, I would take the cliches over whatever Anna Paquin and Garrett Hedlund’s episode, In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses, was trying to be. It goes from whimsical to weird in an instant and never with any subtlety. Garrett plays a war veteran whose wife cheats on him with the husband of Anna’s character. The cheated-ons meet at a counsellor’s office and kick-start a romance of their own. On paper, it can seem complicated and worthy of a Modern Love episode but the treatment of it was far from it. The day dream sequences seem unnecessary and the performances are too one-note to register.
The second season of Modern Love offers a less bumpy ride that the first. But even after two years, I keep going back, again and again, to Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am, the third episode of season one. Anne Hathaway played a woman with bipolar disorder, unable to find love or friendship. The episode was one of the two good ones from that season (the second one being At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity) but still, superior than any in season two.
So it depends on you. Would you want a less beautiful sunset or a smoother ride getting to it?
Modern Love season 2
Directors: Andrew Rannells, John Carney, Susan Soon He Stanton and others
Cast: Kit Harington, Lucy Boynton, Minnie Driver and Tobias Menzes and others