For those who want to wake up on a Sunday morning and weep softly into their pillow, the New York Times' “Modern Love” column is there. Every week in the Style section, the column features first-person accounts of love in its many-splendored forms, from the first blush of connection to the last gasp of a dying marriage.
The column makes the leap to streaming with a new Amazon Prime anthology series that premiered last week. The eight episodes of the first season of “Modern Love” are all adaptations of actual columns, with most written and directed by John Carney (“Once,” “Sing Street”) and featuring an A-list cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Dev Patel, John Slattery and Andrew Scott.
Anthology series are by definition a mixed bag (see Amazon’s own “The Romanoffs”) and “Modern Love” is no exception. But there’s an underlying problem. The “Modern Love” columns feel intimate, with the writer inviting you into their relationships with candor and poignancy.
The Amazon series, however, turns those first-person stories into standard third-person, romantic comedy-drama, with appealing actors in love against a gorgeous New York backdrop. But because each episode is only a half-hour long, we don’t get much time to get to know these characters, so we don’t really care how their love lives are going.
In the second episode, for example, “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist,” a New York Times writer (Catherine Keener) interviews the founder of a dating app (Dev Patel). At the end of the interview, she asks, on a whim, “Have you ever been in love?” and he pours out his tale of the one who got away (Caitlin McGee). Then she tells him her story of the one who got away, a missed connection in Paris with an old college flame (Andy Garcia).
In the original essay, the two stories weave together. In the episode, it’s just a rushed 10-minute dramatization of one story, followed by a rushed 10-minute dramatization of the other. It’s like a rom-com highlight reel, hustling from one pretty moment to the next. The actors do their best, but we never connect to the emotion of the relationships.
Faring a little better was “To Her, He Was More Than A Doorman,” in which Cristin Miloti plays a book editor whose dating life occurs under the disapproving eye of her doorman (Laurentiu Possa). The dating scenes are also generic and disposable, but that’s okay, because the real relationship ends up being a father-daughter bond between the editor and her doorman.
Just when I had about given up on “Modern Love,” I watched “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive,” written and directed by Sharon Horgan (“Catastrophe”). Fey and Slattery play a longtime married couple on the verge of divorce. He’s a celebrated actor used to getting his own way, she’s tired of his unreliability and inconsistency. Their struggle is dramatized over games of tennis — much like in the marriage, he keeps wanting to make up his own rules that play to his strengths.
Fey and Slattery are terrific actors, and Horgan is typically insightful about the push and pull of marriage. She’s particularly good at moments where her characters surprise themselves by how hurtful they can be. And the tennis matches turn out to be a resonant metaphor for the give-and-take of marriage, the need for a couple to decide together what the fault lines are. I loved it.
So maybe watching “Modern Love” is a lot like dating — you have to meet a few clunkers before finding The One.
Also on streaming: Netflix got sued by the Central American law firm at the heart of the new Steven Soderbergh film “The Laundromat,” but decided to release it anyway last Friday. It’s the second Netflix film this year from director Steven Soderbergh (“High Flying Bird”), starring Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas as the partners of the shady firm, and Meryl Streep as a retiree investigating how the firm stole her life savings.
If you’re looking for a new British mystery series to sink into, BritBox’s “The Bay” started streaming Tuesday. Morven Christie plays a detective investigating the disappearance of two teenagers from an English coastal town and finds that she has a personal connection to the case.