“Modern Love,” an Amazon Prime original series, is an anthology based on the New York Times column of the same name. The column, which has also spawned a podcast and a book, features reader-submitted personal essays about love and relationships. It is not limited to romantic love, however, and the Amazon series reflects that, showcasing love at different stages of a relationship, platonic love, self-love and love in the gray areas between. In the introduction to the essay collection published this year, column editor Daniel Jones reflects “Love, for me, is less about definitions than examples. These tales shock and instruct. They provoke laughter and heartache and tears. Occasionally (it’s true) they aren’t even very modern. Always they pry open the oyster shell of human love to reveal the dark beauty within.”
The show boasts a stars-studded cast, including Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel and Tina Fey. There are some artistic liberties taken, particularly with the final episode, but for the most part the episodes remain true to their original essays.
The first episode, titled “When The Doorman is Your Main Man,” tells the story of an unlucky-in-love book critic with an unusual relationship with her doorman. In another episode, “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” a woman with bipolar disorder struggles in relationships with her friends, coworkers, romantic interests, and herself. In a third, titled “Hers Was a World of One” and featuring a bizarre cameo by Ed Sheeran, a gay couple seeking an open adoption become close with a pregnant homeless woman. Other episodes explore first love, disastrous dates, late-in-life love and a slump in a marriage, with many showing character development over long periods of time. Some are stronger than others, but the series as a whole is still worthwhile.
With anthology series comes the concern from those with a tendency to get attached to their favorite characters that these vignettes will simply be thrown into the wind, bits of stories that never get an end. While not all characters get a defined end, there is a level of satisfaction with where the episodes leave them, and a certain freedom with being able to draw conclusions from what is given.
The series stands out not only for its fantastic cast, but also for the individualized and creative tellings of each story, due both to differences between writers of the original essay and writers of each episode. Sharon Hogan, who wrote and directed the episode “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive,” starring Tina Fey, talked about her thought process in an interview with Vulture, saying, “My big fear was not being able to capture it on screen the way it was written, because it was really poetic and beautiful. That sense of they’re finally beginning to hit the ball to keep the game going rather than to win, and the sun’s coming down on the day, but not wanting the match to end.” Other episodes demonstrate quirks of the characters personality, like having a musical number in the grocery store, or narrating the episode like an Animal Planet special.
With eight episodes averaging 30 minutes each, it is difficult to make compelling and nuanced statements about love, and while some episodes lean more towards sweeping generalizations, some episodes manage heart-wrenching subtlety. As a whole, the show is bittersweet but optimistic, and great for fans of romance or human interest stories, and for those who like to see little glimpses of how other people’s lives can unfold.