During these troubling times of global pain comes the highly anticipated second season of the anthology series, Modern Love. This show is based on the real-life events from The New York Times “Modern Love” column. Eventually turned into a podcast, it was later adapted and produced by Amazon Studios. John Carney (Once, Sing Street) returns as the showrunner, writer and director. This season features a star-studded cast including Dominique Fishback (Judas and the Black Messiah), Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones), Lucy Boynton (Bohemian Rhapsody), Tobias Menzies (The Crown), Marquis Rodriguez (When They See Us).
The first season of Modern Love was an uneven antidote to love and heartbreak. It had big names attached to the series such as Anne Hatheway, Dev Patel, Catherine Keener and Andy Garcia, Tina Fey and John Slattery but failed to bring the romantic and emotional depth. The eight-episodic anthology series had issues regarding the lack of diversity. The majority of the episodes were focused on white characters. The series explores romance, friendships, love, heartbreak, and the connection between people in a meaningful way. The stories in the first season were vapid and its romance was an uneven tone of the depictions of love.
Still, Modern Love has a collection of stories that grips the hearts of every reader and listener. The new season proves just exactly that. This year, love takes place in the most unexpected of places, during the early days of the pandemic, in platonic friendships, on the serpentine road, and even explores young love and sexuality. These stories are relatable and individually work a lot better than the first series. This is despite having a few episodes that lack the emotional and romantic connection that is expected from the famous column. It’s more diverse and adventurous, hopping back and forth from New York to Dublin, sharing stories from across the globe.
In “Stranger on a (Dublin) Train”, a techie, Michael (Harrington) and a medievalist, Paula (Boynton) meet on a train from Galway to Dublin during the early days of the pandemic. When they get off at the last stop, they put their faith in the universe and decide to not exchange phone numbers and meet again in two weeks at the same spot. Unfortunately, Ireland shuts down and it stops them from seeing each other. The universality of love and “meet-cute” moments are buttered up in this rom-com episode that includes a musical feature. It’s charming and entertaining, completely relying on the budding performances between Harrington and Boynton.
In “A Life Plan for Two, Followed by One”, follows a new high school girl Lil (Fishback) who falls in love with her best friend Vince (Isaac Powell). Lil believes that there is a connection between her and Vince, but she always ends up in the ‘friend zone. After becoming intimate, Vince confesses that he only sees her as a friend which devastates Lil, so she ends their friendship. Years later, they reunite and Vince apologizes for the way he behaved and old friends reconcile. This episode is a delicate tale of adolescent love and friendship that navigates around rejection and heartbreak, especially hoping for the possibility of returning the love. Fishback’s performance is splendid as she displays vulnerability and emotion and takes the lead phenomenally.
“On a Serpentine Road, With the Top Down” and “A Second Embrace, with Hearts and Eyes Open” bring the most tear-jerking episodes yet. In “Serpentine”, Stephanie (Minnie Driver) is desperately trying to hold on to the only thing that keeps her dead husband’s (Tom Burke) memory alive. His vintage car. It deals with the grief and loss of a loved one in the most layered way possible. Reliving the nostalgic moments that they had in the car. From the birth of their daughter to driving back and forth from the hospital during the last days of her life, Stephanie rides along the serpentine road, talking to a vision of her dead husband. Driver’s performance is remarkable as she carries the weight of the layered and emotional episode throughout the entire episode.
“A Second Embrace” is about second chances as Van (Menzies) and Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo) start a casual fling years after their divorce. When Elizabeth receives a life-changing medical diagnosis, the couple finds love again. The combined narratives of rekindled love and the possibility of death are not conventional. And yet, their newfound romance evokes emotional feelings that bring a new perspective to the former partners’ lives. Okonedo and Menzies deliver one of the best performances of this season. Showing the ugly and vulnerable sides of romantic flings and second chances.
Even with these brilliantly written episodes, there were a few hiccups that need to be mentioned. In “In the Waiting Room for Estranged Spouses”, Anna Paquin and Garrett Hedland’s meet at the therapist office. Thye have discovered their spouses were having an affair with each other. Unfortunately their performances as a former veteran and housewife lack any chemistry between them. Paquin underperforms and does not offer any kind of complexity to her character. Her romantic lead, played by Hedlund, gives a stiff performance. Hedlund’s character deals with not only the separation but with PTSD. The episode also uses dream sequences of the estranged couple fighting which looks unbalanced next to the main narrative. Even though it tackles mental health issues and unconditional love it deals with finding love again and forming a complex bond between two people dealing with tragedy and divorce.
The second season of Modern Love is not perfect, but it is much better than the previous season. It’s more relatable and explores other forms of love, heartbreak, sexuality. The show’s capability to show all kinds of love and the vulnerability of it all is truly the reason why Modern Love warms our hearts. There is a love story for everyone. As for this season, the stars and the moon have aligned perfectly for lovers and hopeless romantics.
For more from Nuha, please check out our Fantasia Festival review series.