Updated: Jan 12, 2020
For those like me who are fans of the New York Times’ inspiring and delightful “Modern Love” podcast, Amazon Prime’s television adaptation of the famed newspaper column will exceed your expectations. And, if you’ve never listened to one of their beautifully written, expressed, and produced podcast episodes, I’m sure, at the very least, you’ll appreciate the power of the meaningful stories told in the show.
Situated in New York City, the “Modern Love” television series is an adaptation of the podcast, which itself is an adaptation of the NYT weekly column about “relationships, feelings, betrayals and revelations.” It seems strange that a published newspaper column could’ve been reproduced in so many forms and be so easily adaptable to both auditory and visual iterations. But, the podcast perfectly depicts the stories told in the weekly column, and the television series is equally as effective. Therefore, I think the variety of ways that the stories in “Modern Love” have been told is a testament not just to the show, podcast, or even the original column's value, but to the foundational stories that each seeks to present.
The New York Times column is a weekly publication of personal essays that have been submitted by Times readers. Don’t let the title fool you – “Modern Love” isn’t just about romantic interactions, as family drama, platonic relationships, and even momentary connections are also explored. During the podcast, a celebrity narrates a story that has been selected from the column. Host Meghna Chakrabarti guides us through the podcast as an actor or musician reads the story and provides interesting commentary, much like an off-screen narrator of a film or television show. Interspersed within the podcast, which rarely lasts more than a half hour, are perfectly chosen songs and sounds that augment the mood crafted by the story. The celebrity narrators, from Greta Gerwig to Issa Rae, have truly been spectacular. It’s their experience in bringing stories to life through careful vocal intonation, in music or on the screen, that elevates the NYT column to another level.
The podcast is fantastic, but ranked against the television series, it comes to a very close second. Amazon Prime’s “Modern Love” is a beautifully shot depiction of the podcast, complete with the diverse range of stories that make the “Modern Love” newspaper column so delightful. In only 8 episodes, “Modern Love” is able to tell us about love lost and gained, hearts broken and mended, stories halted and recommenced, and lives born and ended. Many of these stories are based on romantic relationships, whether they be in marriage or in temporary youthful passion. Yet, the uniting quality of “Modern Love”’s wide range of fairytale-like stories is the confrontational nature of the stories’ imperfections. Happy households are later revealed to be broken; a budding relationship is shaken by mental illness; young love is punctuated by forgetfulness and distance, only later to be rekindled by a fortuitous happenstance. “Modern Love” isn’t trying to convince us of the delusional fact that love, in all of its forms, will be perfect. What we learn after finishing the television series, which takes no more than about four hours to complete, is that love is simply complex.
The cast of “Modern Love,” which changes with each episode, mimics the star-studded history of narrators for the podcast. Tina Fey, Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, John Slattery, Sofia Boutella, and Andrew Scott, among many others, comprise the cast of the show. Each does a beautiful job depicting the stories that have originally been written by a single individual who we only know through the words of their personal essays. Typically, rom-coms will include an excessive amount of notable actors and plaster their trailers and posters with their faces. It always seems like the more celebrities that are in the movie, the more stale the story feels. But in “Modern Love,” the famous cast enhances the narrative. In one of my personal favorite episodes, “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am,” Anne Hathaway uses her musical talent to present Lexi’s moments of intense bliss, tastefully depicting the manic aspect of bipolar disorder without romanticizing or criticizing it. Only Anne Hathaway, with her extensive background in musicals, can begin singing about the miracles of fruits and vegetables at the supermarket but suddenly collapse into her bed and convincingly and respectfully show the nuances of Lexi’s mental illness.
It’s amazing to think that each of these stories in “Modern Love,” whether it be the newspaper column, podcast, or television show, was originally written by a regular person. Of course, the writers aren’t necessarily “regular” considering the outstanding situations in which they have found themselves. Or, perhaps, they truly are regular, and what Modern Love seeks to remind us is that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, experiences a life that is worthy of being told in a multitude of forms – at the very least, written and published in as pristine a publication as the Times. What I most appreciate about the series isn’t really the stories about love, though -- it’s the various depictions of mental illness. Few people will understand how difficult it is to relate to people when you carry the weight of anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other illnesses that are considered in the “Modern Love” series. By telling these stories, the show inherently states that love can be complex, and it can be complicated through a variety of factors, but it can still stubbornly persist, independent of our individual struggles.
I’ll admit that “Modern Love” often feels corny. You might groan at the final line of the first episode, coyly titled, “When the Doorman Is Your Main Man,” which is so annoyingly sweet you might get a cavity or two. But isn’t there a special place dedicated to socially accepted cheesiness? Yes, you might groan at that line, and the many other Hallmark-quality moments, but you’ll also begrudgingly smile.
“Modern Love” is the perfect show to binge on a quiet afternoon. Its sometimes cliché depiction of intriguing stories of love and the complexity of relationships, all located in New York City, will take you on a great emotional journey. After the tears, laughter, and fun invoked by the series, you’ll certainly feel moved by its honesty.
“Modern Love” was released on Amazon Prime in October and is available to stream today.