Be still my heart. A new batch of eight slice-of-life — and love — vignettes inspired by the New York Times column Modern Love has arrived like a gift from a mercurial Cupid.
“What do you think this is? Some movie on Netflix?” barks a Dublin cop to a lovesick swain trying to skirt past a pandemic roadblock to reconnect with a woman he only recently met. The scene perfectly embodies this anthology’s appeal. As with any good rom-com — or rom-dram for that matter — Modern Love can make you laugh, weep, sigh, shudder or swoon, sometimes all within a single story. Even when this exceptionally well-cast and admirably diverse series plays by the romance genre’s rules, there’s usually an element of surprise.
Take “Strangers on a (Dublin) Train,” one of my favorites, referenced above. This timely tale set against the pandemic’s early days brings together Paula (Lucy Boynton), a bookish student of medievalism, and charming tech expert Michael (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington), both headed to their respective families to begin quarantine. Theirs is a classic “meet-cute,” but this cliché is underscored and amplified when fellow passengers acknowledge this fact musically. (The hand of director-showrunner John Carney, of Once and Sing Street fame, is especially evident here.)
And then there’s the “meet sour,” when Spence (Garrett Hedlund), an uptight ex-Marine, and suburban mom Isabelle (Anna Paquin) realize their spouses are having an affair. Circumstances keep bringing them together, at first if only to remind them that, as Isabelle tearfully explains, “Life cannot be planned.”
This wouldn’t be news to Liz and Van Cannon (the glorious Sophie Okonedo and The Crown’s Tobias Menzies), a divorced couple in their 40s who reignite their spark, keeping it from their precocious daughters until fate knocks them for a potentially tragic loop. Nor to Stephanie (Minnie Driver), a remarried widow who can’t part with her first husband’s sports car for the most wrenchingly sentimental of reasons. I expect these particular stories will have viewers reaching for the tissue box.
Some episodes see themselves as a “fairy tale,” like the bizarre nocturnal fable of Jordan (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Zoe (Zoë Chao). He’s completely smitten despite her rare condition that only allows her to be awake at night. Whereas aspiring stand-up comic Lil (The Deuce’s Dominique Fishback) feels “brainwashed” by fairy tales when it comes to her unrequited longtime crush on princely childhood friend Vince (Isaac Powell).
Same-sex attractions are explored in two very different and provocative episodes. In “Am I …? Maybe This Quiz Will Tell Me,” insecure middle-school teen Katie (the remarkable Lulu Wilson) is drawn to the more free-spirited Alexa (Grace Edwards), even though listicle quizzes keep telling her she’s probably not queer. In the haunting “How Do You Remember Me?,” written and directed by Andrew Rannells (Black Monday), two young men reflect differently on what could have been as a chance encounter brings back memories of a fateful first and only date.
Not every Modern Love story has a happy ending — or sometimes even an ending at all. “I don’t like getting to the end of things,” insists Paula during her fateful Galway-to-Dublin train trip. I know how she feels. I hated running out of new episodes. More, please.
Modern Love, Season 2 Premiere, Friday, August 13, Amazon Prime Video