As the series’ joyful opening credits suggest, the love of the title comes in many forms and it ignores barriers of age, race and gender. It includes straight and gay couples, parents and children, siblings, friends and strangers who become friends.
And cop this for a cast to deliver these uplifting tales of modern life: it includes Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, John Slattery, Catherine Keener, Dev Patel, Julia Garner, Jane Alexander, Andrew Scott, and Andy Garcia.
Much of the impressive TV available is focused on the dangers and the ills of society. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when they’re productions of the calibre of Unbelievable, Mindhunter and Criminal. But, it’s such a joy and a relief to find a series where there are no grisly dead bodies, no ghastly crimes to contemplate, no criminals to be hunted down and apprehended before they can commit more unspeakable atrocities.
Modern Love is an optimistic series about people surprising each other. Built on a foundation of compassion, it’s kind to its characters, who are decent people trying to do the right thing and sometimes failing, but then discovering ways to address their mistakes. It’s understanding and forgiving of its characters and it’s also about second chances and the possibility of redemption, right up to its exhilarating ending.
Which is not to say that it’s sappy or phony. The series also features outbreaks of bracing honesty, bad behaviour and sincere apologies.
For example, episode four, Rallying to Keep the Game Alive, features a long-married couple, Sarah (Fey) and Dennis (Slattery), whose life together has grown stale. Sarah is worried about what they’ll have in common when their growing children move out. The ensuing events involve therapy, tennis and natural-history documentaries.
But there’s a moment, after they’ve decided to divorce during a couples’ counselling session – don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler, it happens right at the start – where they go out for a meal because Dennis is hungry. Sarah, who’s initially decided not to eat anything, says, “I hate who I am with you now,” before explaining, in cogent detail, her frustration with their relationship and his attitude to her. They have an honest, unguarded conversation, after which she decides to order a burger, with fries rather than her customary side of salad. It’s perfect.
Based on a story by novelist Ann Leary about her marriage to actor Dennis Leary, the episode is adapted for the screen and directed by Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe, Divorce), who’s a fearless maestro when it comes to drawing out the bonds and the discomforts of marriage.
Anne Hathaway’s episode, Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am, written and directed by Carney, features a couple of glorious musical interludes and eventually pivots on a crucial confession and an unexpected show of support. Also written and directed by Carney, Hers Was a World of One sees Tobin (Scott) and Andy (Brandon Kyle Goodman) building a relationship with prospective mother Karla (Olivia Cooke). She sees herself as a “traveller”, but she could also be seen as a homeless nomad. What happens after a bruising falling out is heart-warming, surprising and absolutely fitting.
The final episode, The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap, written by Carney with Tom Hall, directed by Hall and starring the wonderful Jane Alexander, is a profoundly moving and eventually gloriously uplifting account of love and loss.
Once the bassist in the Frames, Carney has previously made well-judged, warm-hearted films that point to the potential of music to unite people. That affectionate sensibility shapes this series and, with the announcement from Amazon of a second season, there will, happily, be more. Carney reckons that the next season will enable Modern Love to open out into “new cities and worlds”.