Modern Love Season 2 review: A deeply rewarding mixed bag of the best kind that doesn't try to outdo its predecessor

If Season 1 felt like the big, flashy, feel-good Hollywood love story, Season 2 feels like its Indie movie sibling in terms of its choice of stories and their telling.

Suchin Mehrotra August 13, 2021 10:05:04 IST
Modern Love Season 2 review: A deeply rewarding mixed bag of the best kind that doesn't try to outdo its predecessor

Still from Modern Love Season 2

The opening credit sequence of Modern Love is among the few that I never skip. It is a snapshot of human connection, made up of a series of random images of the love and lives of strangers. Stray moments of people holding hands, kissing, dancing, and embracing. Loving and being loved. It is like the slideshow equivalent of Love Actually’s iconic opening sequence of families reuniting at Heathrow airport. Aside from easing you into the mood of the series, the opening credits perfectly capture the essence of the show. Fleeting flashes of love through stories that demand you relate to some, aspire to others, and reflect on your own.

Based on the popular New York Times column (and subsequent popular podcast) of the same name, Modern Love (re)tells real love stories about real people. The series comes from creator John Carney who has made a career of matters of the heart with wonderfully warm films like Once, Sing Street, and Begin Again to his name.

Season 2 offers fresh faces in eight new fables of love. The cast this time around is less flashy, and the stories more specific. Last season was dominated by beloved well-known actors like Christina Milotti, Tina Fey, Andrew Scott, Dev Patel, and Anne Hathaway among others.

This time around, while there are a number of popular faces such as Kit Harington, Anna Paquin, Tom Burke, and Minnie Driver, most of the stories are populated by lesser known faces, a decision that feels deliberate.

If Season 1 felt like the big, flashy, feel-good Hollywood love story, Season 2 feels like its Indie movie sibling in terms of its choice of stories and their telling.

Unlike the rousing highs of the first season’s opening episode, 'When the Doorman Is Your Main Man' (the Guzmin episode, which remains one of the show’s best), Season 2 starts off on a more somber note. In 'The Night Girl Finds a Day Boy,' a woman with delayed sleep phase syndrome falls in love. He lives his life in the day, and she can only function at night. While it is hardly a series highlight, I enjoyed the specificity of their equation, and what it says about the sacrifices we make for those we hold dear.

Instead, it is the far more sensitive, sensual, and personal second episode that is among the standouts of this new season. 'How Do You Remember Me?' is written and directed by actor Andrew Rannells, based on a column he wrote himself. Two young men see each other on opposite sides of the road. As they gradually come closer, they are reminded of their first and only date, as (beautifully shot) flashbacks recount the evening they shared. Despite its gimmick, of edging towards each other ever so slowly, wearing thin after a point, it is a beautiful format — the idea of two people passing each other and their entire history coming to light in those few precious moments.

The purpose of the episode is to shine a light on perspective, and how the two remember the night differently, an idea that did not come through seamlessly for me. But the essence of the story holds true. That sometimes life can happen to you in the scariest ways, and all you have for comfort and support is someone you barely know. A sudden crisis can forever bind unfamiliar souls. A casual date instinctively and immediately becomes something more. And even if you never see each other again, it does not change the fact that in that moment, for that time, this person meant something to you, and that cannot be nothing. A thing is not beautiful because it lasts.

Episodes three and four, both deal with young love, albeit in completely different ways.

'A Life Plan for Two, Followed by One' is a mostly unremarkable chapter that is propelled by a premise that is near impossible not to relate to in some way. A young girl (Dominique Fishback) falls hopelessly in love with her best friend  (a well-cast, charismatic Isaac Powell) in school. It is a delicate, messy equation that lasts right through to adulthood as she navigates the trappings and chronic messiness of living in the friend zone.

But it’s 'Am I Gay or Straight? Maybe This Fun Quiz Game Will Tell Me' that is the far more affecting look at young love. A middle-school girl questions her sexuality when she finds herself having feelings for another girl. She even resorts to doing a series of Buzzfeed quizzes to help her find out about her sexuality. Celine Held and Logan George's writing and direction gives us a heartbreakingly sweet yet unprocessed look at a young girl trying to navigate and make sense of a blur of feelings and emotions about her sexuality and the girl she likes. Unlike 'A Life Plan for Two, Followed by One,' the writing here feels organic, and it does not feel like an outsider’s perspective of youth.

Another stand-out is the 'Dublin-set Strangers On A (Dublin) Train,' written and directed by Carney himself, which offers everything you would want from a Modern Love episode. Two strangers (Kit Harrington, and an endlessly charming Lucy Boynton) meet on a train from Galway to Dublin in March 2020. They decide not to exchange numbers, but instead to meet on the same train two weeks later. Then the pandemic strikes and shuts down the world.

Modern Love Season 2 review A deeply rewarding mixed bag of the best kind that doesnt try to outdo its predecessor

Still from Modern Love Season 2

Aspirational and exaggerated yet self aware and rooted in reality, this is John Carney at his best, taking a grounded story and dousing it in movie magic. Carney gives us the ultimate movie meet-cute dialed all the way up with all the bells, whistles, chemistry, and razor sharp dialogue you could want. There is even a fellow passenger breaking into song to give the two lovebirds their own delightful rom-com soundtrack to match.

But it was' In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses' that I was most taken by this season. I am still processing much of it. A man bumps into the ex-wife’s of the man his wife left him for. The two, whose spouses left them for each other, form their own unlikely bond. It is a wildly entertaining one-liner, and everything about its opening few minutes screams bland, predictable rom-com. And yet, director John Crowley and writer Susan Soon He Stanton’s episode goes far beyond its promising premise. You do not quite know when it happened till it happened, but, at some point, a predictable story reveals itself to be a quietly devastating meditation on mental health, and one man’s silent struggle to find purpose beyond the set life plan he had mapped out for himself. Bland becomes beautiful.

In the end, Modern Love Season 2 is another deeply rewarding mixed bag of the best kind. Even the episodes that do not quite stay with you as much, such as 'On a Serpentine Road, With the Top Down,' or the final episode 'Second Embrace, With Hearts and Eyes Open,' are never not rewarding.

Though I would be lying if I said I did not miss the shiny star cast of Season 1. And I do wonder if I will be thinking back on these new episodes a year from now as fondly as I do about Guzmin or the Dev Patel or Anne Hathaway episodes from Season 1. But what is wonderful about the show is the two seasons need not be compared and pitted against each other. Season 2 is not trying to outdo its predecessor, merely expand on it.

For many, Modern Love is little more than a fuzzy yet forgettable comfort watch, and I could not disagree more. To me, it is an ongoing quest to try and understand love by immersing us in the experiences of real people. Stories of love and tales of connection have never been more important than they are today. While there can never be a bad time for Modern Love, we need it now more than ever.

As in a recent interview to Film Companion, about his learnings on love, creator John Carney said, "The more data you have on love the less you know." You may not learn more through this show, but you can still gain a lot. Even if it is just a continual, resolute reminder of the simple fact that love actually is — all around."

Modern Love Season 2 is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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