What better way to celebrate the kickoff of cuffing season than with a show dedicated to love and its many forms? Amazon’s new anthology series, Modern Love, is based on the long-running New York Times column of the same name in which a reader submits a personal essay based on their own experiences in relationships. The show, which has already been renewed for a second season, is made up of eight episodes. Each one adapts a different essay that has been previously published by the column.
There are a wide range of stories including a single woman finding solace within a platonic relationship with her doorman, a married couple figuring out when they should give up on their marriage, and a young girl’s confusing courtship of an older man in her office who reminds her of her father. Not only is the variety of stories impressive but so are the actors that are featured. The series has episodes with Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, Tina Fey, Catherine Keener, and many more.
Although Modern Love is undeniably heart-warming, it also has many flaws. Despite being played by household names, many of the performances are one-note and the endings are wrapped up a little too neatly to be satisfying. These failings are forgivable due to the structure of the anthology series. Each episode stands alone so the entire story has its inciting incident, climax, and wrap up in 30 minutes. The viewer doesn’t have time to question the deeper implications, over-romanticism, or reliability of the characters. The length means the sweetness of the plot lines don't have the opportunity to turn sickly. It is simply meant for viewers to enjoy one small aspect of a very broad topic, which is how the show works despite the obvious flaws.
Modern Love is one in a surprisingly small number of shows to utilize anthology rather than allowing one person or group of people for many episodes. Popular shows such as Easy or Black Mirror (both on Netflix) have also had huge success in sharing stories in this way.
It may be surprising that anthology series aren’t more popular considering their potential to satiate audience’s short attention spans and attract high-profile actors with low-commitment, artistic roles. In fact, it seems to be a natural extension of the increasing number of critically-acclaimed limited series that viewers are becoming accustomed to.
Anthology series are more difficult to make considering they seek to explore many characters and ideas but do so while keeping a similar tone throughout the entire season. Each episode can be watched on its own or, more likely, viewers can binge the entire series with many plot lines that all more or less evoke the same feeling. It is challenging to find a topic that can have this diversity of stories while keeping a cohesive theme.
When done well, they can be low-commitment, fun, and impactful. One episode isn’t going to explore the deep nuances and complexities of gay couples adopting or finding love after loss, which Modern Love looks into, because it isn’t supposed to. What it can do is give a snippet of one story that has the potential for people to connect.
The lack of depth inherent in the structure is not a weakness but rather a strength. The lack of knowledge of each character outside of the specific situation they find themselves in gives viewers the opportunity to project themselves onto the characters. They can insert their own childhoods and past relationships if they have found themselves to be in a similar experience and end up feeling closer to the story. Ambiguous backgrounds allows room for emotional interpretation and connection within each episode.
Modern Love is hardly saying anything new about a topic that is arguably overplayed. In fact, there are fifteen years of essays and four years of podcasts that are sharing the same types of stories. However, every episode has a certain warmth and idealism that makes it difficult not to be charmed. This, combined with the unique and underutilized format, create a worthwhile show that gives an entertaining visual interpretation to beloved stories.