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Amazon’s Modern Love Turned an Unsexy Column Into a Rom-Com

Tina Fey, Anne Hathaway, and Dev Patel are just a few of the stars in Amazon Prime’s new series Modern Love based on the successful New York Times column and podcast. The series released today and is already is getting lots of buzz — not all of it good.

Criticism of the show has centered around why Modern Love feels fake and that the poignant, addictive quality of the stories on the page don’t quite translate. The truth is, Modern Love is too sexy for its own good. If you’re claiming to tell honest stories about love and dating in New York, you need to be willing to get ugly.

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Catherine Keener and Dev Patel in Amazon’s ‘Modern Love.’ Image: Giovanni Rufino/Amazon Studios. Giovanni Rufino/Amazon Studios.

Everything about Modern Love is too polished: the characters are too glamorous, the emotions too neatly contained, the apartments almost comically beautiful. It’s nice to look at, but it lacks real depth. The stories from these columns are emotional and complicated, but what we see in Modern Love is fluffy and easy to watch.

Here’s one example: In the episode “Rallying To Keep The Game Alive,” Tina Fey and John Slattery play a couple on the brink of divorce, and the lows of their marriage include a heated tennis game and storming out of dinner. But throughout these scenes, the show pulls back before it gets too sad, playing merry classical music or having a character offer a punch line to lighten the mood.

In another episode, the Anne Hathaway-led “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am,” her character’s bipolar disorder is made pretty and palatable too. During her manic periods, she acts out a series of dance numbers. It’s a whimsical choice, but it also once again takes something difficult, and makes it feel light.

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Cristin Milioti and Laurentiu Possa in Amazon’s ‘Modern Love.’ Image: Christopher Saunders/Amazon Studios. Christopher Saunders/Amazon Studios.

The Modern Love column is not the stuff of a Hollywood romcom. It became popular only because it reads like a peek into the icky, unmanageable parts of love that people aren’t often willing to talk about. While they are funny, romantic, and self-aware, they also show us what fear looks like; fear of ending up alone, of losing someone, of a family falling apart. That fear is what the TV adaptation lacks.

In this NYT Style section fever-dream of love and sexy real estate, the production value is high, but stakes are low. It’s pleasant, but forgettable — exactly what the best Modern Love columns aren’t.

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