(Photo: Netflix)

As someone who found the romantic comedy ending of Love’s inaugural season disingenuous, I was pleased to see the how this year’s premiere wrecked the happiness of that moment. But if that first episode back was about Mickey convincing Gus that they can’t be in a relationship, the second is the show’s attempt to convincing us viewers that we should want to see them together. So, it splits them apart and the result is, well, not as fun.

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While Love seemingly began as an exploration of a good guy-reckless girl paradigm, it slowly became clear that both members of its central couple are genuinely terrible to the people around them. They are arguably well-meaning, but they are also selfish, unrepentant assholes. “Friends Night Out” drills down on this, insisting that Mickey and Gus are perfect for one another because they are horrible to everyone else.

After their sex-less night spent together, Mickey insists that she and Gus shouldn’t communicate for a week. It’s with this mandate that they end up having respectively miserable evenings apart. Mickey goes to a dinner party thrown by her friend Syd that’s filled with couples nattering on about their kids. Initially, it’s easy to sympathize. Anyone who has been left out of a conversation or single at a couples gathering knows that feeling of isolation. But then she turns the tables to make life miserable for everyone else. She convinces them to play a game of TableTopics, and when the night still isn’t going her way she decides to come up with her own question to burst her companions’ bubbles. She asks the group: “If you could sleep with someone in your partner’s family, who would it be?” Naturally, any talk of someone fucking his or her significant other’s sister leads to animosity, and Mickey watches with almost too much glee as squabbles break out. When she’s caught in her ruse, she claims that she wanted to “liven” up the party, throws a tantrum, and storms out. No one seems that sad to see her go, but who can blame them?

However, at least Mickey’s behavior can be somewhat justified by her friends’ obliviousness. Gus has no excuse. He goes out to drinks with a bunch of guys and is having a grand old time talking about the Friends universe until his friend Chris invites a neighboring table of ladies to join them. As they all banter, Gus retreats into his phone. A woman named Kali with cat eye glasses and thick bangs tries to make small talk with him. He replies half-heartedly, and then rebuffs her when she asks if he wants to come with her to the bar. He turns back toward his phone before she even gets up from her seat. Later, she finds him alone and confronts him. He thought she was hitting on him; She was just trying to be nice. It’s a credit to both Paul Rust and guest star Tipper Newton that this is executed so well. The first time I watched, I saw it entirely from Gus’ perspective. Kali’s demeanor seemed flirty, after all. On second viewing, it was obvious that she was just trying to engage with the one person who didn’t seem to be having a good time.

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As Erik noted, Love’s success rests in Rust and Gillian Jacobs’ chemistry. As Mickey and Gus, they do a weird, appealing dance. ”Friends Night Out” is a necessary episode—without it, the re-coupling would have seemed too quick—but it suffers because of how little we get to see the two leads play off of one another.

At the episode’s conclusion, both Mickey and Gus break the rules they outlined at its outset. Gus texts Mickey after seeing an image of Little House On The Prairie’s Michael Landon on a screen at the bar. (It was an inside joke.) They go out for Korean BBQ, Mickey kisses Gus passionately, and they have sex in her car. The epic, swelling sounds of The Avett Brothers’ “No Hard Feelings,” underscore some pretty aggressive humping. It’s a strange juxtaposition, and there’s an underlying sense of dread that’s appropriate. The song is beautiful, but fatalist, just as their actions are romantic but destructive.

Stray Observations

  • This series absolutely nails the almost painful back-and-forth of two people just trying to keep a conversation going. See, for instance, Mickey and Gus’ whole riff on her instruction to only text in an emergency. Mickey describes what Gus should do in event of a bus crash: “Don’t call 911. Just text me an emoji of a sad face and a hospital.” There’s no reason for them to be still talking, but they want to so their chatter devolves into awkward jokes.
  • Similarly, the sweet way that both Mickey and Gus relish in one another’s smells when they are separated is a lovely, understated touch.
  • Speaking of smells, Gus lets an enormous fart rip as soon as Mickey leaves his apartment.
  • I’m sure every review will include this sentiment. Claudia O’Doherty is a goddamn treasure. More evidence? Her bizarre confession about cutting up a dead rabbit.
  • Hard indie music burn in the dinner party scene. “She interned at Sub Pop.” “That’s not a cool thing anymore.”
  • I grew up in Los Angeles. The conversation about private schools at Syd’s dinner party is horrifyingly real.

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