William Jackson Harper as Marcus Watkins in ’Love Life’. Picture: HBO Max
William Jackson Harper as Marcus Watkins in ’Love Life’. Picture: HBO Max

'Love Life 2' is a refreshing look at relationships and dating - from a guy’s perspective

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Nov 20, 2021

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Think of all the rom-com TV shows you have watched so far: how many of them didn’t have a female protagonist?

Yep, the blueprint has been pretty formulaic for this particular genre.

And like so many TV buffs, I’ve watched my fair share of these offerings as it is therapeutic, funny and relatable.

Popular shows that spring to mind include the classic “Sex and the City” (the reboot is currently in the pipeline), “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, “Jane the Virgin”, “Emily in Paris”, “Sex/Life” and “Insecure”.

I’m grateful to find that storytelling has evolved over the years.

It delves much deeper than those shallow ticking boxes when it comes to dating. It tackles real struggles in the real world of working young professionals.

While season one of “Love Life” fell into the conventional Hollywood trapping of having a white female protagonist, the creatives of the anthology rom-com series flipped the script by making the lead in the follow-up a young professional guy named Marcus Watkins (William Jackson Harper).

By doing so, they not only expanded the scope of the storytelling but the topics tackled as well. And they added a fresh spin by casting an actor who doesn’t fit the “pretty boy” mould.

I started watching the new season last week and, the more I watched, the more I got reeled into series.

The protagonist is book editor Marcus. When we first meet him, he is married to his college sweetheart Emily (Maya Kazan). His parents didn’t approve of him marrying her, but he followed his heart.

Sadly, they are now like two passing ships in the night: one starts work when the other arrives home.

That spark is clearly no longer there, yet they continuously go through a loveless routine until the other shoe drops – she stumbles across some upsetting messages between Marcus and his hot friend Mia Hines (Jessica Williams).

Not long after, Marcus finds himself single and having to start over. He initially moves in with his sister Ida (Punkie Johnson), who is a little inconvenienced as she needs some alone time with her new girlfriend.

The bouts of unbearable loneliness lead to random hookups. But, deep down, there is a profound yearning to find a strong physical and emotional connection with someone like Mia.

A scene from “Love Life”. Picture: HBO max

Meanwhile, he also has a few frustrations on the job, like a difficult but talented author who is precious about his edits to his clueless boss, who offers him a promotion sans any monetary incentive.

The writers have done a deep dive when it comes to tackling the challenges of interracial relationships, cultural differences, the struggles of being black, problems in the bedroom and shortcomings when it comes to communication.

Casting Jackson Harper as the lead was a brilliant decision on the part of the creatives. He isn’t buff or what one can describe as a conventionally good looking guy.

But the actor delivers a stellar nuanced performance. Essentially, he’s what one would call a nice guy. While he is mindful of not hurting the feelings of others, he always stays true to himself.

Also, it’s interesting to see the situation from a guys perspective. That’s the pull of this series. The casting is great, and the storyline veers into relatable scenarios.

One of the story arcs looks into his no-strings-attached relationship with Becca Evans (Leslie Bibb), an older woman who is embracing the freedom of being single after her divorce. Things get complicated when she accidentally falls pregnant and decides to keep the baby.

This becomes a dilemma for several reasons, and the writers handle it with commendable sensitivity.

In an interview with TV Line, Jackson Harper said: “I watched the first season, and it was really nuanced, and the way certain relationships fell apart felt familiar.

“When (series creator) Sam Boyd approached me about season 2, I said yes because it sounded like a fun challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it.

“And trust me, by ‘challenge,’ I don’t mean I was like, ‘I can’t wait to show people.’ I just wondered if I was up to it, and I really wanted to give it a shot.”

His failed love connections, while hilarious, also smacks of the torturous struggles of most singletons.

The actor admitted to finding certain scenes awkward.

He laughed: “Getting naked was the biggest challenge. I’m scared of that at all times. In all seriousness, I had to physically disrobe in some scenes but also dive in and really follow Marcus’ story and aspects of his life, which means I’m on screen most of the time.

“So the schedule was pretty demanding. Artistically, there was also a lot of navigating to understand why Marcus does the things he does.”

If “Sex and the City” and “Insecure” had a love child, this would be it. It tackles the fun, fears and frustrations of dating but tells it from a man’s perspective.

All I can say is that it’s about time the template for these rom-coms evolved.

“Love Life” 2 is currently streaming on Showmax.

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