Because love's hard; bohot hard
Easy (on Netflix) and Modern Love (that recently dropped on Amazon) have replaced rom/romcom with realism forever.
You have to see it (as I did) to believe the sort of frenzied, fanboy worship Charlie Brooker, writer-showrunner of Black Mirror inspires at a place like the (New York) Comic Con, which is usually Mecca for Marvel bhakts (going mad).
And yet, Black Mirror (on Netflix) is the kind of show that whenever I recommend it to friends, invites a uniform response: 'No, no, looking for something light (to watch) yaar, tonight'. It might be a series admired by absolutely everyone. But dedicatedly watched by only a few among the same lot.
And, what's light, anyway? I guess something breezy, is the usual explanation. But the reference is inevitably to, and I'm pretty sure about this, a romantic comedy. Hard to tell why the post-Meg-Ryan-Hugh-Grant-Julia-Roberts-Jude-Law Hollywood stopped enthralling audiences with syrupy, chocolate-flavoured romcoms. Not referring to Kissing Booth, Riverdale-type teeny stuff. That'll always have its time and place.
Maybe the larger point is, if you can tackle romance without going Diet Coke, or hard liquor, about it. Sure. Make no mistake, Black Mirror is to the nearly dystopian present-future — shocking you with a strange sense of recognition — as Easy (on Netflix) is to modern romance, in abnormal sizes and uncomfortable shapes.
And Joe Swanberg, the writer-creator of the surprisingly under-rated gem Easy (Season 3, 2019), deserves the same hero-worship as Brooker. How deep has he gone into internal recesses, in order to relentlessly spin a series of short stories, with such full-bodied characters, dealing with love, or the loss/lack of it, in such relatable environments, while people go about their regular day — chiefly, day-jobs — rather than fixate, as if their lives wholly depended on it?
This is as true for the life of the mind. Certainly truer than regular, starry-eyed romcoms, where everyone lives happily ever after. Or true-blue romances, all of which seem derived from Romeo and Juliet, who had probably met two-and-half-times their whole life, to give it all up for it! The sheer complications of navigating a post-modern/Tinder world is enough to land you a mind-f***. Sex seems easy-peasy.
Like Black Mirror, Easy is an episodic show, in the sense that each half-hour episode is an altogether separate short film (with an over-arching theme of course, and technology being common to many). Characters over-lap between episodes sometimes, so their stories move forward. Otherwise, half an hour — short and sweet/bitter, and you're done.
By now I'm beginning to prefer this, over long-form story-telling/consuming that seems unsustainable over a period of time. Seriously, life's too short, man. How many shows over how many seasons would you binge over how many hours, months and years to feel like you've had enough, to find several anew, and carry on still?
Flip side? Each short in Easy may not hit you the same way as the others. You've got to take your chances. And if you're into friendly, personal reccos, I'd say, start with S1-E5 (Art And Life); S1-E8 (Hop Dreams), which is an extension of S1-E3 (Brewery Brothers); S2-E3 (Side Hustle); S2-E2 (Open Marriage); S3-E2 (Private Eye)... I could go on.
Either way, prepare yourself to enter dark or empty spaces, filled up with mirrors, so you can see both genders negotiating their roles without a clouded judgment.
What's common to all these shorts, besides some fancy apartments is also a multi-ethnic, cross-racial nature of love, where neither matters. This is only possible in very few big cities of the world. Which takes me straight to Modern Love that recently dropped on Amazon Prime, and is to New York City, what Easy is to Chicago.
Modern Love, although surely fictionalised, is based on personal essays from The New York Times under the column of the same name. How is it different from Easy, given that it is also an episodic series, centred on the idea of relationships in a contemporary churn?
It isn't, by way of how it draws you in. There is something about this genre that inevitably speaks to you more directly than any other. Whether or not you've ever seen/known a killing (crime/murder-mystery), bank robbery (heist), or landed up in space or into the future (sci-fi), 100 per cent chances are you've fallen in or out of love.
Also, a pure relationship drama seems the most writerly of all genres, with such little getting in the way of what you (visually) say, allowing performers to get closest to living the real thing — with a few crutches that cinema can afford.
That said, Modern Love is the kind of show I'd instantly recommend to Black Mirror non-friends, looking for something light for the night! And man, inch by inch, does it blow you over! Since this is a recco-special, aimed to help you start on the two shows I've slept with, for two nights in a row —with Modern Love, first, please press, E1. And well, just don't stop thereafter. Maybe fleetingly halt at E3, and wonder: How did they turn a newspaper column into a goddamn musical!
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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