'Modern Love' Season 2 Never Gets Past Infatuation

Starring Kit Harington, Minnie Driver, Anna Paquin, Garrett Hedlund, Sophie Okonedo, Lulu Wilson, Dominique Fishback, Tobias Menzies
'Modern Love' Season 2 Never Gets Past Infatuation
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Each of the eight episodes that make up Modern Love's second season feels like the starting point for a pretty decent rom-com: a confused teen deals with confusing feelings of asexuality and same-sex attraction, a young woman get friendzoned by the guy she's loved since middle school, a couple tries to find a common ground despite their wildly different sleeping schedules. As full-length movies, it seems likely that every single one of them would have been enjoyable.

As half-hour TV episodes, however, every story in Modern Love ends up feeling a little thin. Characters are half-formed, plots take the shortest possible route, and a couple of stories are left frustratingly (rather than artfully) open-ended. Modern Love's episodes are based on submissions to The New York Times' column of the same name, which perhaps explains why each one feels like a hurriedly told anecdote rather than a proper story.

Modern Love never quite packs enough of a punch. Opening episode "On a Serpentine Road, with the Top Down" gets the season off on the wrong foot with an account of a widow still grieving her first husband's death, despite her happy marriage to a new man. The late husband is a flat and one-dimensional character, while Minnie Driver strangely doesn't bring the slightest trace of emotion to her role as a widow still living in the past.

The Kit Harington-starring "Strangers on a (Dublin) Train" lifts its plot directly from Before Sunrise, but despite charming performances, it leans too heavily on self-referential meta smugness. Anna Paquin and Garrett Hedlund's "In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses" is a stiffly acted portrayal of PTSD and infidelity that erratically glosses over key plot points.

None of the episodes are bad, exactly — this second season doesn't have any total clunkers, like the first one did — but they don't leave any lingering impact. And that's frustrating when so many episodes have a nugget of potential greatness. In particular, "Am I...? Maybe This Quiz Game Will Tell Me" follows a teenager grappling with her sexual identity, its closeup camerawork capturing the stressful chaos of navigating high school cliques. It's tempting to imagine what it could have been if it slowed down and rounded out the characters a little more.

Modern Love goes down easy — which, given the way its characters deal with some heavy life challenges, isn't exactly a compliment. With so many notable actors and some great elevator-pitch plots, Modern Love is frustrating and half-realized, like infatuation that never quite blossoms into love. (Amazon Prime)