Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the New York Times' Modern Love essay column has been the talk of the town since it launched late in 2004. So you can only imagine readers’ delight when Amazon announced that they’re creating a web TV series based on several essays in the collection—in fact, it even begs the question, "Why only now?"
Dubbed as a rom-thology, the first season is composed of eight episodes, each portraying different interpretations and scenarios on the all-too-elusive term that is modern love. Overall, it’s a story about love in its different forms, not just the stock-image romantic kind. Some episodes show a character’s journey toward self-love, some portray finding familial love in the most unexpected places and people, and then there’s the lost love, found again arc.
The series features a star-studded cast, from Anne Hathaway to Tina Fey to Dev Patel to Andrew Scott to Ed Sheeran (watch out for his hilarious surprise cameo—we won’t say on which ep), and all episodes are set in New York. Accompanying this is a fantastic soundtrack that you’ll probably search on Spotify the moment you hear the opening theme. And if these still aren’t enough to convince you, then maybe the rest of this article will.
The best part about any anthology series is that you can literally pick any episode to start with (if you’re not into getting into the formal sequence of it) and you’ll be just fine. Although, we’d definitely recommend saving the last episode for, well, last. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect per episode, along with quotable sans-context lines that may or may not be related to what the episode really is about.
Episode 1: When the Doorman Is Your Main Man
“So you review books for a living, and you live in a building with a doorman?”
This pilot episode is about book critic Maggie (Cristin Milioti) and her bond with her doorman Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa), who also acts as her pseudo-father. In fact, he might as well be the litmus test for every guy she dates. Once you get past your envy towards Maggie’s millennial-dream job and even more millennial-dream living condition, prepare to be moved by this story about unconditional love in unexpected places.
(The recurring question for most millennials upon watching this show is... How is it possible that every character, regardless of age and lifestyle, has a fancy apartment in an upscale NYC neighborhood? Guess we’ll never know.)
Episode 2: When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist
“Dawn is for lovers and bakers.”
It opens like many a romcom set in New York, complete with background music that sings about liking everything there is about the city. Two love stories take place in this episode about love lost and second chances: that of a jaded tech mogul (played by Dev Patel) who recently launched a dating app, and that of the writer (Catherine Keener) tasked to do a profile feature on him. If you’re a sucker for classic romance with a hint of bitter real-world realism, then we recommend watching this one first.
Episode 3: Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am
“My ostensible search for peaches was in reality a search for adventure. Maybe even love. I just didn’t know it at the time. If you can find love in a supermarket, early in the morning, you know you can trust it.”
Crowd favorite Anne Hathaway plays Lexi, a lawyer with bipolar disorder struggling to maintain relationships and her career. It’s an ambitiously realistic portrayal of mental illness: depicting Lexi’s manic state like an homage to 1940s musical films (complete with ostentatious OOTDs and dancing in the grocery aisle), while her depressive state is given a raw, quiet portrayal by Anne, which all the more shows her talent. There is a lot of internal monologue all throughout, giving viewers a better insight on the protagonist’s current state. More than anything, this one is all about self-love being the most important love of all—and we definitely need more tales like this.
Episode 4: Rallying to Keep the Game Alive
“Is that what we are? Like a penguin couple?” “You didn’t even see the ending.”
Out of all the characters in this season, perhaps the only ones whom you’d likely find realistic in terms of having a fancy NYC apartment is the couple here, played by John Slattery and Tina Fey. Having been married for over a decade with two kids, the question of why they still stay together happens after watching a penguin documentary. The ending will tug at your emotions, despite this being the least emotional and arguably most comedic episode in the series.
Episode 5: At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity
“I’m impressed you’ve fought the urge to put it on Instagram.” “I would, but my battery’s dead.”
A second date between Yasmine (Sofia Boutella) and Rob (John Gallagher Jr.) takes a turn that is both disastrous and comical, and ends up in a hospital visit. While it’s definitely nothing like your usual stay-up-all-night plot, the characters’ revelation of their secrets and vulnerabilities is no less meaningful. Predictable plot twist and ending aside, this episode will make you reconsider the next time you say no to a breakfast date (just because mornings are annoying).
Episode 6: So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?
“He smelled like wine and oranges and dependability.”
This episode directed by Emmy Rossum has garnered a fair amount of controversy, given its premise. 21-year-old fresh grad Maddy (Julia Garner) develops an attraction bordering on weird obsession towards her much older colleague Peter (Shea Whigham) in her subconscious search for unconditional fatherly love. While most of the scenes will make you either confused or uncomfortable (maybe even both), the story itself is a good dissection of the complexity of male-female relationships.
Episode 7: Hers Was a World of One
“We’re capitalists. We wouldn’t survive a second in the wild because there’s no restaurants or Whole Foods or therapists.”
It opens with a voiceover by a wildlife documentary narrator, and a healthy amount of jazz background music. Gay couple Andy (Brandon Kyle Goodman) and Tobin (Andrew Scott) decide to adopt a child, though the latter is quite hesitant about it. They meet with the eccentric (and that’s putting it mildly) and pregnant Karla, whose soon-to-be-born child they immediately decide to adopt. Karla is everything this straight-edge model-citizen couple isn’t, and so begins their crazy journey.
Episode 8: The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap
“I’d be very disappointed if he died before I had the chance to ask him out.”
In the season finale, Margot (Jane Alexander) and Ken (James Saito) meet at a rather late point in their lives: in their 70s, at a running club. Perhaps the most poignant tale out of all eight episodes, it’s about love that is both old and new love: That while it’s never too late to find a love that lasts, there’s also the painful reality that comes along with it. While I’ll try not to give spoilers on this one, let’s just say that the show definitely saved the best tearjerker for last. And just like most romthologies, this finale neatly ties all the stories together in a bittersweet conclusion. In its final minutes, the ending will make you cry, laugh, and maybe—just maybe—believe again.
Though the show’s writers have definitely tweaked certain elements in the stories, the fact that you’re well aware that they’re all real stories from real people makes all the difference. But Modern Love is more than just a collection of eight different tales. It is, in essence, a love letter to New York City itself. In fact, one can definitely say that the real main character of the franchise is actually this famous city that has inspired countless works of art. A New York Times article sums it up accurately: “When filming in New York, the city is always the star.” And this show is, thankfully, no exception.