‘Modern Love’ Season 2 Review: A Toned-Down Follow Up With Hits And Misses, And Lots Of Vicarious Romantic Fulfilment
I can’t remember exactly when I began reading the New York Times column of personal essays that this Amazon Prime Video anthology is adapted from, but it has been a loyal love affair since then. Who needs fictional love stories when you have real ones like these, written so beautifully that it made me want to aspire to write one of my own and have it published in Modern Love some day! But when the first season dropped, I was not in a good place and delayed watching it for quite some time. When I did, it hit me with all the feels, progressively getting more emotional until that final episode where I just broke down. And in that singular day of bingeing, it became one of my favourite anthologies. Naturally, when Modern Love Season 2 was announced, expectations were high. Show creator John Carney returns, with a whole new cast that includes Minnie Driver, Tom Burke, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Zoe Chao, Lucy Boynton, Kit Harington, Dominique Fishback, Isaac Powell, Lulu Wilson, Garrett Hedlund, Anna Paquin, Zane Pais, Marquis Rodriguez, Sophie Okonedo, Tobias Menzies, Susan Blackwell, Maria Dizzia, , Grace Edwards, Kathryn Gallagher, Telci Huynh, Nikki M. James, Aparna Nancherla, Larry Owens, Ben Rappaport, Milan Ray, Jack Reynor, Miranda Richardson, James Scully, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Don Wycherley, and Jeena Yi.
Carney serves as writer, director and executive producer. John Crowley, Marta Cunningham, Jesse Peretz, and Andrew Rannells, Celine Held and Logan George direct episodes of the anthology series. The season has been filmed in Albany, New York City, Schenectady, and Troy, New York and Dublin, Ireland, all of which make for stunning backdrops for these stories.
Before I dive into my specific emotions on Season 2, it is only fair to talk a little bit about what made Modern Love Season 1 such a phenomenon. There was that star studded cast that included Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, Tina Fey, Andy Garcia, Andrew Scott and Cristin Miloti to name a few. But mostly, it was the stories that tugged hard at your heartstrings, making you laugh, relate, and long for a love like that. For me Modern Love has been mostly about vicarious romantic fantasy fulfilment, because even though the disclaimer tells you that parts of the stories are fictionalised, you know the essence of it all was someone’s very real experience. The fact that Modern Love recognised all forms of love—sexual, platonic, old, young, straight, queer, parental, fleeting—made it like a buffet where if you’d stay with it, you’d get a dish that suited your tastebuds perfectly.
As a mentioned in my earlier review of Feels Like Ishq, the short format storytelling works brilliantly because it is a challenge to make you feel for these characters in merely the first 10 minutes or so, and give you the other 10-15 to feel invested. The incomplete completeness of where the story ends is a potent emotional draw.
Modern Love Season 2 dials it down on the star power by a few notches, and that’s something I was not too bothered by. There are enough marquee names on that list, and I am really here for the meet-cutes and to explore newer kinds of love that I might not have experienced myself but bring warmth to my heart. And after finishing the season, or perhaps even in the middle of watching it, it felt to me that Season 2 had dialled it down on the emotion as well, because while I was feeling and relating, and laughing and going “Aww!”, it wasn’t the same intensity that I experienced during Season 1. And believe me, I was more than prepped to feel all of it, being on my period and the hormones in an overdrive. But that instant affection that you’d feel for the series, where if you asked me what my favourite was and pat would come the reply, that was missing.
Perhaps one of the reasons I could attribute this to was that Season 2 didn’t exactly experiment with different kinds of love, and again comparisons here with Season 1 are inevitable. The latter had gems like ‘When The Doorman Is Your Main Man’ or ‘Her’s Was A World Of One’, which delved into much more than romantic attachments between two people. Whereas in Season 2, while the mediums might vary, I felt it all boiled down to just romantic attachment between two people.
That being said, I enjoyed how these love stories were told. For me, S2 with ‘The Night Girl Finds A Day Boy’ (Gbenga Akinnagbe, Zoe Chao) where a boy meets and falls for a girl with an illness that messes up her Circadian rhythm. A creature of the night and a human who makes hay when the sun shines… it’s like your favourite vampire story but set in a more real world, where major sacrifices might be needed for both their worlds to coexist. It’s a sweet story, which isn’t as impactful an opener, but the actors make it endearing nonetheless.
I think ‘How Do You Remember Me?’ is one of my favourites from this season. Written and directed by American actor Andrew Rannells, and starring Zane Pais, Marquis Rodriguez, James Scully and more, it’s an efficient portrayal of how two people might remember the same night differently. The play on perspectives is shown as the two people spot each other from across the road, and get flashbacks about their time together, and how a traumatic event in one of their lives changed a lot, even their perspectives of the same night and what they meant to each other in that moment. I related a bit too much to this one, because there have countless times when I’ve remembered a date and a person so differently, and that illusion has remained untarnished because, well, I might not have met them again.
PS: The chemistry between Pais and Rodriguez was electric! And you might just spot a certain Gossip Girl alum here!
The third story, ‘Am I….? Maybe This Quiz Will Tell Me’, the title made me want to high five a friend who I often exchange BuzzFeed quizzes with. I mean, how many times have we tried to read zodiac horoscopes or do these insane quizzes that ask you what colour underwear you’re wearing to tell you who your life partner is going to be! It’s a cute coming-of-age story that dips into the confusion felt by a young school girl who is trying to understand their sexuality. The confusion and chaos in the minds of the characters is palpable—there’s just too much noise, bossy friend talking too fast, mother asking a lot of questions, teachers driving wedges in plans…. But ultimately when they find some answer… peace.
A Life Plan For Two, Followed By One was perhaps the most underwhelming of all, even though it began on a highly relatable note. Many of us (including yours truly) have fallen for our friends and always wondered what could’ve been. Or maybe, even tried it out and ended up destroying that friendship. The performances by the younger actors really made an impression, and I was enjoying Dominique Fishback’s standup persona a bit too much. However, as the story progressed and eventually ended, it felt a little too incomplete for my taste.
Say hello to what is perhaps my favourite of the lot! ’In The Waiting Room For Estranged Spouses’, the fifth on my watch list, was when I was reminded of why exactly I enjoyed this series so much. It was one of those unexpected meet-cutes, where an army vet meets the estranged wife of the man who had an affair with his wife, in the waiting room of a therapist’s office. Wrap your head around that! Garrett Hedlund is incredibly quirky as the army man with a plan whose life derails because of his wife’s affair. And Anna Paquin (My God, she blew my mind in Flack, also on Amazon Prime), as a tired mother who just wants a reliable grown man that can be her partner was brilliantly convincing. The story is written well, the humour laced in balancing out the more serious undertone of mental health concerns that need to be addressed and how relationships can sometimes form in the most unlikely ways, but only when the time for them is ripe. Because life doesn’t follow a plan!
Also Read: ‘Shershaah’ Review: A Surprisingly Subdued Tribute To A War Hero And His Two Loves That Should’ve Been So Much More
Speaking of plans going to shit, Strangers On A (Dublin) Train, that I watched right after, continued the streak of stories that I loved. Starring a hilarious Kit Harington and a perfect Lucy Boynton, this is a story, as the title suggests, of two people on a train to Dublin, in the early days of the pandemic. There are no masks in sight, but the hustle to get safe inside and the foolish (in hindsight) optimism that this will all be over in two weeks or so hangs thick in the air. The two strangers bond over their love for books over technology, and promise to meet again at the station in two weeks, without exchanging contacts. You know that is a recipe for disaster, especially when you also know the pandemic is about to get worse. The writing of ‘Strangers’ is funny and self-aware without slowing down or seeming frivolous for even a second. But mostly, it keeps it real about just how fleeting or obsessive these feelings can be, and how technology really does make love easier and equally hard.
I think Harrington needs to do more comedy, and it’s something I have felt ever since I saw him in the Game of Thrones Red Nose Day musical with Coldplay, or the Seth Meyers Takes Jon Snow to dinner gag on Meyers’ late night show. Fellow fantasy fiction fans, keep them eyes and ears peeled for references to three of the biggest book-to-screen franchises, and just pray to the Old Gods and New that we get a rom-com starring Kit Harington soon.
The last two stories are the ones with the emotional material. ‘On A Serpentine Road, With The Top Down’ cut very close to making me feel them feels, thanks to Minnie Driver’s performance as a woman unwilling to sell her money pit of a vintage race car because it belonged to her dead first husband (Tom Burke, making me emotional as hell with barely any words said) It’s the only place she can ‘talk’ to him still, and feel his presence as she hits 60 on the speedometer, and relive their life together every time she is behind the wheel. I felt with this story the familiar tug that Modern Love meant to me, and how modern love has evolved into being secure and comfortable in what you want from a partner. There’s a beautiful conversation between Don Wycherley’s Niall and Driver’s Stephanie, when she asks if it bothers him that her deceased husband is still so present in her life. And he says, “You loved him at the time he died, right? Love sets at moments like that.” His explanation that follows is to me, the essence of what the ‘modern’ in Modern Love is about… an evolution, and a better understanding of the definition of love both changes and yet remains the same.
The final story in the season was one I was quite eager to see. Tobias Menzies may have played more hated characters (Edmure Tully on GoT, Black Jack Randall on Outlander) but I’ve always loved watching him on screen. And with him, Sophie Okonedo, made me think I could look for something special. ‘A Second Embrace With Hearts And Eyes Open’ is sincere, and heartwarming and Menzies and Okonedo’s couple dynamic is endearing, especially when they’re playing parents to their very wise girls or falling in love all over again. It didn’t make me tear up or be some kind of a crescendo ending to the season, but it was nevertheless sweet, making you wish you found a love that was so sure and so there for you, unconditionally, when you needed it the most.
It’s hard to review a series like Modern Love because love has so many forms and they all mean and appeal to each one of us so uniquely. How we feel about these stories depends on our own life experiences.
Comparisons with Season 1 are inevitable, and IMO, I do think the stories of Season 2, while relatable and enjoyable, didn’t exactly turn on that emotion faucet for me as much as I wanted. But what I do love about this season is that it continues to explore different kinds of love stories and ways of telling them so that we may all experience them vicariously even if we never get to experience them first-hand in our lives. It’s like you know love can’t be defined, but you have fun trying to write your own versions of what all it could be. Modern Love Season 2 feels lighter, more grounded than the first for sure, and continues its exploration, definitely worthy of a few more seasons.
I’d recommend a binge in a heartbeat.
Modern Love Season 2 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.