A novel format and a winning lead aren’t quite enough to elevate this lightweight romantic comedy series, which makes for an oddly low-key entry in HBO Max’s opening wave of original content.
This review of Love Life (HBO Max) is spoiler-free.
The launch of HBO Max has been something of a big deal, thanks in large part to the announcement that Zack Snyder’s long-rumored cut of Justice League would debut on the platform, albeit next year. Until then, though, the streaming platform has to make do with original content that, oddly enough, doesn’t really resemble the heavy-hitters of rival platforms or indeed HBO’s own lofty prestige output. Of all the content available for the service’s debut, the only adult-oriented scripted original is Love Life, a charming if low-key and largely unremarkable rom-com anthology that plans to explore the dating history of one protagonist per season, starting with Darby, played winningly as ever by Anna Kendrick.
Some things to note, then. The romantic comedy is an age-old money-spinner for good reason, and repackaging the tired formula is a good idea. The usual rhythms of the meet-cute, falling out and reconciliation are different in Love Life, which devotes an episode to each of Darby’s relationships for a spikier procession of romantic highs and lows. Secondly, Anna Kendrick, who leads the charge for a new streaming platform for the second time this year after her starring role in Quibi original Dummy, in which she befriended her partner’s sex doll. Her kooky self-deprecating demeanor is the closest to a real-life persona any famous actor is likely to achieve, so she’s suited to this kind of funny relationship fare.
But despite all this, it’s still difficult to see Love Life as anything other than low-rent streaming filler, and it does virtually nothing to push the genre envelope in any meaningful directions. Even its anthological format comes back to bite it, as Kendrick is required to play both her current age and several years younger, which never quite takes or allows the show to develop an engaging dramatic throughline. And even in this slightly novel composition, the beats – first relationship, one-night-stand, this and that – are the ones you expected, hit in largely predictable ways.
Kendrick is good, though, and creator Sam Boyd has fun with her and her family and career as well as her love life. Those more serialized elements are arguably stronger than the lighter romantic fare, and have a better sense of cohesion, even if they’re undercut slightly by the need for each episode to be its own little capsule story of a relationship beginning and ending. Half-hour episodes feel somewhat limiting for such a busy show, but there wouldn’t be anywhere near enough dramatic content to fill longer ones. So what can you do?
Either way, Love Life is an interesting and charming experiment, but it feels out of place as the crowning jewel in an opening wave of content for a very visible new streaming platform. It’ll return, I’m sure, and I won’t be mad that it does, but I’d be very happy to see it return in a slightly more daring form.
We are fast becoming the number one independent website for streaming coverage. Please support Ready Steady Cut today. Secure its future — we need you!