Love Life is HBO Max's first scripted original series (geared for adults, that is, unlike The Not Too Late Show With Elmo). And if it's any indication of what HBO Max has to offer, then the new streaming service will need to step up its game significantly to compete with the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus.
The first three episodes of Love Life are streaming now on HBO Max. Episodes 4-6 will debut Thursday, June 4. Episodes 7-10 will debut June 11.
It's not that Love Life is bad or boring; it's just not appointment viewing. And for a new streaming service to stand out in a very crowded landscape, it needs a breakout hit that appeals to a lot of people. At launch, Disney Plus boasted a massive library of classic films and shows ... but it also debuted the first live-action Star Wars TV show in The Mandalorian, which became a buzzed-about pop culture sensation thanks to Baby Yoda.
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Love Life has no Baby Yoda or anything close to it. The show follows a young woman named Darby, played by the always-charming Anna Kendrick, on a roller coaster of romances in New York City. The early episodes each focus on one relationship, like the first one which chronicles her brief fling with political writer Augie (Jin Ha) and the second one focusing on the nearly yearlong spell with her former boss (Scoot McNairy).
True to the title, Darby's love life takes center stage — and leaves very little room for much of anything else. Her jobs and career aspirations pop up now and again, but there's no real sense that she has ambitions and passions beyond finding The One.
Love Life has been compared to Sex and the City and the Freeform show The Bold Type, both romantic comedies featuring a white, heterosexual female character as the lead. Like the latter, HBO Max's series features a more diverse cast, with both of Darby's roommates and several of Darby's romantic liaisons being people of color. But unlike those two shows (or Netflix's wonderful teen rom-com Never Have I Ever), the supporting characters never get fleshed out.
Darby's two roommates, Sara (Zoë Chao) and Mallory (Sasha Compere) both seem interesting ... whenever they get any screen time, which is very rare. Neither gets much of a story. And almost none of the men come across as a fully formed human being. They feel like cardboard cutouts with tropes written on them: The Nice but Unavailable First Boyfriend, the Older Rich Boyfriend, the Hot Mess One Night Stand, etc. Toward the end of the season, Chao gets a little more to do as Sara, which made me interested in a spinoff about her complicated longterm relationship.
As for Darby herself, Kendrick is fantastic. She's funny and adorable, sexy and vulnerable. While Darby's choices and behavior often lead to head-scratching, Kendrick manages to make it all work. You end up rooting for her, even when she's obnoxious, oblivious or obtuse.
Unfortunately, as great as Kendrick is, the show struggles due to its narrow and total focus on Darby. It really needed more nuance and other perspectives from supporting characters. It seems like HBO Max wanted to launch with its own Sex and the City, but for the millennial generation. Love Life is no Sex and the City. In its heyday, SATC's deep pool of characters and provocative storylines generated a lot of chatter and a million thinkpieces. Love Life just doesn't have the spark required to turn into a pop culture bonfire.
It's too early to say that HBO Max will be a disappointment, based on one show. More originals are coming down the pipeline. Plus, a lot of potential subscribers will be drawn to the back catalog, which includes Game of Thrones, Friends, The Big Bang Theory and more. But Love Life demonstrates that HBO Max has a long road ahead in vying with the big streaming guns.