The short story is currently an atypical form for TV, but Amazon’s new Modern Love series shows promise for the anthology format and the ability to draw viewers in without continuing storylines or established characters. The series is instead taken from eight different stories published in The New York Times’ popular Modern Love column, and for the most part, the episodes do a remarkable job of presenting complete and compelling narratives in only 30 minutes.
Granted, the use of familiar faces makes this easier: Who doesn’t want to see Tina Fey and John Slattery as a bickering married couple? And Anne Hathaway is truly impressive portraying the devastating highs and lows of a lawyer with bipolar disorder who’s just trying to make connections with people. Many of Modern Love’s best chapters don’t need such star power: The series kicks off with the home run of “When The Doorman Is Your Main Man,” in which Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother) is a single woman in Manhattan who has trouble dating because her doorman doesn’t approve of anyone she goes out with. The ultimate reason he’s so protective turns out to be utterly sweet, making for a lovely vignette about how the most important people in our lives may be the ones we least expect. Andrew Scott (hot priest!) also brings it as a gay man who’s adopting the baby of a pregnant homeless woman with his partner: He’s tightly wound, she’s the total opposite, but the two people from such different walks of life wind up relying on each other exactly because of those differences.
Not every chapter is a slam dunk, of course. “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?”—a story of a young woman working out her daddy issues with a a work crush—is borderline creepy, and a waste of both Julia Garner and Shea Whigham. But most episodes attempt to at least get at the base of why human beings are continually drawn to each other, even after heartbreak. Fey and Slattery have instant chemistry in a story that doesn’t get explored very often: How do you keep romance alive after years of marriage, while looking ahead to your empty nest? Like most of the episodes, “At The Hospital, An Interlude Of Clarity” doesn’t paint a picture of everlasting true love; instead, it depicts an unforgettable night between two people that they’ll likely never forget, even if they never see each other again. That’s the key of these episodes: They nearly all involve the stories of strangers who reach across the great (and possibly terrifying) human divide to open up and make a connection with someone else. Modern Love refreshingly bypasses the clichéd concept of love as an all-consuming force we need to find in favor of tracing that affection to its primary source: ties between people.
Unfortunately, Modern Love primarily depicts a picturesque, homogenized version of New York that would fit right into a Nora Ephron movie. Even the characters who are right out of college have enviable apartments. While there have been some attempts to cast people of color (Brandon Kyle Goodman as Scott’s spouse, Dev Patel as a lovelorn dating app developer, Gary Carr as Anne Hathaway’s grocery store crush), the cast is primarily white and well-off. And Scott’s episode is the only one that focuses on a gay couple, which seems like a missed opportunity.
The final episode weaves all the previous stories together, with prequels and sequels extrapolating on these brief glimpses of connections: together, separate, possibly cloying, possibly tearjerking, yet ultimately hopeful. At the end of every 30 minutes, the message we walk away with is that it’s worth the effort to reach out to people, for one night or a lifetime.