"I thought you were an Ice Queen but you're not, are you? You're really sensitive."
An ex once said this to me. It came with the realisation that there was a pattern in my love life. When men realise I have feelings and I'm no longer 'cool', they become faintly disgusted and lose interest. This process, the collapse of the Cool Girl illusion, is what makes Judd Apatow's Netflix series Love relatable.
|Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs)|
Here, I'll recount a narrative surely many women can recognise. First, you clock that a guy fancies you. You feel some duty to reciprocate but quickly remember that you're an independent woman who doesn't owe men anything. You endeavour to emit unsexy friendships vibes, hoping he notices. (They usually don't bother to notice.) Then, sometimes, you end up sleeping with him. This can happen due to drunkenness/low self-esteem/a random spike in libido. If a couple more of these nights happen, you might start to really like him. "Yes! I'm going to get a nice boyfriend! He's not perfect but that's okay!" This is when he gets all confident, goes cold and fucks you over. A classic tale.
"Surprise! I'm not the cool girl, okay?" is a great line. (As an aside, I feel compelled to note that, as a woman, fucking around doesn't mean you don't care. It means you care so much that you need to anaesthetise yourself to the world while secretly, very deep down, hoping this tosser will be the one to stick around.) This conversation is so real, and these honest bits of dialogue are the show's main strength.
Love is funny, well-acted and charming in a similar way to cult TV series Freaks and Geeks. However, there are faults to touch on, especially the phenomenon of hot woman (played by Gillian Jacobs of Community fame) with nerdy, ugly dude (played by Paul Rust of no fame). This feeds into common tropes, namely Give Geeks a Chance and Ugly Guy, Hot Wife, and reflects textbook double standards. Come to think of it, Judd Apatow always pairs an unattractive or average-looking man, often a nerd with little experience, with a Beautiful Woman (i.e. one who has been certified male-approved by society). In fact, it's kind of his thing.
|Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up (2007)|
|Mila Kunis and Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) - spoiler alert: by the end of the film, Kristen Bell's character also wants to bang him. NB: This film was only produced, not directed or written, by Apatow.|
|Emma Stone and Jonah Hill in Superbad (2007)|
|A character played by Elizabeth Banks pursues Carell's Andy in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)|
Does Apatow repeatedly use this formula as a shortcut to empathy, expecting the audience to root for the underdog? Likely. Are these male protagonists, at least to some extent, self-inserts? Also likely. I can't help but suspect nerds get a kick out of seeing themselves 'get the girl' on screen.
Let's have a look at Gus' romantic/sexual interests...
|Heidi (Briga Heelan), the blonde bombshell|
|The two young women who want a three-way with Gus *hard eye roll*|
|Achingly cool Binki Shapiro, who plays someone at a party interested in Gus|
All these women are beautiful, and Gus is not. That isn't to say beauty standards are right and everyone should only couple up with others in their 'league'. Men like Paul Rust, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, etc, are considered superficially unattractive by shitty beauty standards. (Ideals that have not been created by women, by the way, and can't be compared to those imposed upon us, cf. Beauty and Misogyny by Sheila Jeffreys.)
Some attempts have recently been made to subvert these tropes. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013) and Rebel Wilson in How To Be Single (2016) are supposed to defy conventional beauty standards, mostly by not being size zero. These women are given sex lives, or at least desires. But the differences between these fat female characters and comparable fat men in Hollywood are significant. Most notably, the men are protagonists rather than amusing sidekicks. But they are also, crucially, given love lives. When McCarthy's Bridesmaids character announces she'd climb a man like a tree, her sexual appetite is being played for laughs. How To Be Single sees Wilson's character engage in casual hook ups, being 'cool' about it, and that is posited as progressive because it means men are willing to fuck her. Is that really a step in the right direction?
Returning to Love, I think Mickey trumps Gus on all bases - looks and personality. Yes, she's fucked up but she is undeniably fun and funny, while he is uptight and often cringe-worthy. I'm certain Judd Apatow is aware of his male lead's unlikability, which makes some later decisions baffling. Nonetheless, I'll be watching Series Two when it arrives simply because I love Mickey Dobbs, whose doesn't-give-a-shit, 'why not?' attitude and deep insecurities speak to me on many levels. I just hope the next instalment is fair to her. After all, if Gus can score hot chicks to make nerds happy, can't we 20-something-year-old single women see Mickey be happy?