Every week, I read the Modern Love column in The New York Times; I have since it debuted nearly 15 years ago. Each essay either brings me to tears or turns my lips upward into a huge smile. The column's editor, Daniel Jones, works closely with the authors to fine tune their pieces, and almost every one ends with a final sentence that's an emotional punch to the gut.
In January 2016, WBUR (Boston's NPR station) turned Modern Love into a podcast. Each episode features a celebrity reading one of the published essays. I was skeptical about listening at first. I thought, these stories are already so perfect, how could they possibly be improved? But you know what, hearing them through my headphones on dog walks is an absolute delight.
Here are a few of my favorite episodes, if you'd like to give them a listen:
- The Hunter-Gatherer, Parking Division | With Jason Alexander
- The Night Girl Finds a Day Boy | With Logan Browning
- Overfed on a Mother's Affection | With Kumail Nanjani and Emily Gordon
- R We D8ting? | With Krysten Ritter
- Single Woman Seeking Manwich | With Awkwafina
- A Tattoo for the Living | With Zosia Mamet
I became such a loyal listener, that when it was announced the show would record an episode live, on Valentine's Day, I raced to get a ticket. On February 14, 2017 I took my seat in the Wilbur Theater and witnessed actors Emmy Rossum (Shameless), Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) and Alysia Reiner (Fig on Orange is the New Black) bring to life three essays on stage.
This week, on Friday, October 18, Amazon released Modern Love, the TV show. You can listen to Daniel Jones talk about that evolution (print -> podcast -> screen) in a recent episode, Rallying To Keep The Game Alive | Live At CitySpace.
I watched all eight episodes in one sitting. Each episode is 30 minutes, so it takes about four hours if you binge it.
The first episode was my least favorite, and it had me feeling like the beauty of the original written words just wasn't translating into this medium. With visuals (instead of having to use your imagination), you are distracted from some of the things that make the essays so special - an expertly chosen verb or adjective, a brilliant metaphor, or an arrestingly honest confession.
The TV show ignites some of that raw emotion with its music selection. In almost every episode there is a song that perfectly matches the characters' current state of mind. Sometimes its the tone or the energy level of the song, and sometimes its a heartbreaking lyric.
Here are my thoughts on each episode, one by one.
Episode 1: When the Doorman is Your Main Man
In this episode, Cristin Milioti plays Maggie, a single woman in New York City with a very overprotective doorman. When Maggie finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand, it's her doorman, Guzmin, who provides the support she desperately needs.
I hated this episode. It lacked the emotional heft that Modern Love essays are known for. I was shocked the producers decided to make this the first episode in the series, since most viewers start with episode one to get a taste for what the rest of the content will be like. I'd recommend skipping this one.
Episode 2: When Cupid is a Prying Journalist
Episode two stars Dev Patel as the young founder of a successful dating app, Fuse. He's being interviewed for a New York Times profile story by a journalist, played by Catherine Keener (who went to my alma mater, Wheaton College!).
This episode is a treat, because it's two love stories in one. First, the story of Joshua (Dev Patel) and his "one that got away," and second, Julie (Catherine Keener) and her story of a love never realized. The objection of her affection is played by Andy Garcia, who is perfect in this part.
I always love Dev Patel, but he is particularly endearing in this role. As soon as this episode ended, I wanted to watch it again.
Episode 3: Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am
Within the first 60 seconds of this episode, I knew exactly which essay it was depicting and I remembered the first time I read it. Anne Hathaway plays Lexi, a woman struggling with bipolar disorder. The episode opens with her during a manic state, wearing sequins and flirting confidently with a fellow shopper in the grocery store.
Gary Carr plays Jeff, the man taken by surprise in the produce aisle, and instantly charmed by a spirited Lexi.
Towards the end of the half hour, Lexi shares her diagnosis with a coworker, over mugs of coffee in a diner booth. That particular scene is both beautiful and crushing. Have tissues close by!
Whether you love Anne Hathaway or hate her, she's undeniably spectacular in this part.
Episode 4: Rallying to Keep the Game Alive
This episode is being heavily promoted in the press because it stars two Hollywood A-listers, Tina Fey and John Slattery. They play Ann Leary (the author) and her husband, Dennis.
I can clearly remember reading Leary's essay and thinking how masterfully she had written about her marriage, using the game of tennis as a metaphor for their relationship. Every word choice, every description, was so perfectly constructed within the rules of the game. You lose some of that brilliance watching it, instead of reading it, but it's still a great episode.
Episode 5: At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity
This was my favorite episode! It co-stars John Gallagher and Sofia Boutella as Rob and Yasmine, a couple on their second date. The scenes, in both dialogue and blocking, very accurately depict the extreme awkwardness of going to someone's apartment for the first time. The date takes a sharp turn when Rob drops a martini glass, resulting in shards of glass lodged in his arm.
Yasmine stays by Rob's side in the ambulance, in his hospital, through his procedure, and in the cafeteria afterward. The intensity of the situation serves as a catalyst for unexpectedly honest and deep conversations.
This episode ends with Rob and Yasmine enjoying coffee and scones on a park bench after their ER visit, and it's just perfect.
Side note: the actor who plays Rob, looks exactly like one of my coworkers, which kept distracting me while I watched! I just couldn't get over the likeness.
Episode 6: So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?
This episode will make you feel uncomfortable. It tells the story of Madeline, a young woman working at a robotics company, and her much older coworker (like, 30 years older) who begins to pursue her romantically.
Madeline is played by Julia Garner, who won an Emmy for her role on the Netflix series Ozark. She's great in this part, struggling to parcel out her feelings - a mix of adoration and longing.
In a scene where she's at her boss' house and he's cooking her dinner, her voice over says, "He smelled like wine, and oranges, and dependability." I remembered that sentence from the essay!
This story feels more complex than the others. I think it's one of the ones that translated best to the screen.
Episode 7: Hers Was a World of One
This episode tells the story of a gay couple, Tobin and Andy, adopting a baby through a surrogate, Karla.
Karla is played by Olivia Cooke, and she should be nominated for every award for this performance.
Karla is homeless, and moves in with Tobin and Andy for the final two months of pregnancy. Her free spirit turns their uptight world upside down.
Of all the episodes, this one is the most raw. There are fights, low blows, and ultimately, a deep, loving understanding for where the other person is coming from.
Fun fact: Ed Sheeran makes a cameo in this episode!
Episode 8: The Race Grows Sweeter Near its Final Lap
The final episode is about death, which makes complete sense, since the first episode is about a birth. It felt like the producers purposefully ordered the episodes to follow a full life cycle.
This installment follows Margot, as she mourns the loss of her husband, Kenji. There is a scene where she is delivering the eulogy at his funeral, where she displays equal parts sadness and strength. Of all eight episodes, that was the only scene that made me ugly cry.
The final 10 minutes of episode eight weaves in all of the other characters from the previous seven, which made me very mad! The beauty of Modern Love essays is that each one stands on its own. For that one moment, each week, you get to come inside someone's world. It felt contrived and unnecessary to try and interconnect each story at the very end. Not everything needs to be wrapped up with a bow!
Ok, there you have it. All of my thoughts. Now, tell me, did you watch? What did you think? Which was your favorite episode?