Jhe first season of Love Life (BBC One) centered on Darby Carter, played by Anna Kendrick, and the relationships that defined his life. Some were romantic, some were sexual, some were friendly, some a combination of all three, but each of the strands came together to form a neat and charming series about modern life and romance in an arty social corner of New York. It was a great idea, well executed, and there was an old-school spark to it. Kendrick, rarely disagreeable in any way, sold it completely.
This second outing proves that Kendrick wasn’t the only one who carried the show. The format – most episodes focus on, or lead to, a partner of some description – works just as well when transplanted into someone else’s love life. In this case, it’s Marcus Watkins (William Jackson Harper of The Good Place), a book editor in his thirties who is married to a woman named Emily. Marcus is invited to Darby’s wedding in 2016, at which point it deviates from the first season. The big difference is that it’s not about chasing the thrills of Marcus’ youth. Instead, he’s already settled down – although there wouldn’t be much drama if his marriage was in good shape and every episode was about his domestic bliss and Emily.
Instead, Marcus meets a woman named Mia, whom he instantly hits it off with. Their friendship ignites, crossing an already blurred line and confusing everyone involved. In the non-love part of his life, he is also dissatisfied. The racism of the publishing world, and the fact that he’s stuck editing books by influencers and not the next great novelist, makes him unhappy, though he experiences low-level malaise, rather than a great despair. He begins to feel the need for change in all aspects of his life. Watching someone in their 30s discover how to become the person they want to be, and the right person to help them get there, makes this a different series from the first, but just as effective.
Harper’s performance as Marcus is a big part of that. It’s a great skill to take someone who behaves in an objectively terrible way to begin with and turn them into a character that audiences wholeheartedly root for. Love Life will always be a deeply romantic series, despite the wonky routes it takes to get there. That’s part of its appeal, and it makes for an impeccable romance. But it avoids being too soft, adding a touch of realism so all those cuties don’t get overwhelmed. People behave well and they behave badly; sometimes there are reasons for it, and sometimes there are not. He finds all those human flaws buried in his fairy tale facade.
This is billed as a romcom, but it’s more of a rom-dram. We follow Marcus through his divorce, his one-night stands, his encounters with old school friends, his dates that lead nowhere. He plays fast and loose over time. Some episodes cover an evening; others take months. We get to know his parents, his sister, his workplace, over the course of five years. It passes quickly, which justifies that each episode of each series does not last more than 30 minutes. There’s no room for dramatic simulation on such a tight deadline.
Eventually, Marcus gets it, just like Darby did before him. It takes a lot of missteps, mistakes, and smart moves to get there. We don’t know who he will end up with, until he does. But watching this delightful show weave all of these elements together until it finds a way to satisfaction is a real treat.