Though beautiful on paper, the series is not as effective on screen

The New York Times has been running the “Modern Love” column for more than 15 years. Since its inception, the column’s personal essays about romantic relationships have evolved into a book, a podcast series, and now an eight-episode short series of the same name. Each episode is based on a real essay that can be found in the New York Times.

The “Modern Love” series is full of similar, unconventional scenarios that at times make viewers gape at the possibility that they could be real. But while these eight, truth-based stories follow incredibly unique plotlines, only the first two are able to deliver a moral punch to the viewer in the same way that the “Modern Love” essays do, time and time again.

Big names are featured throughout the episodes, including Tina Fey, Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, Andy Garcia, John Slattery, and Ed Sheeren. 

However, even with a jam-packed acting line-up, Anne Hathaway couldn’t quite make up the craziness of her episode which features the dating experiences of a bipolar girl. 

“When the Doorman Is Your Main Man” is the best episode of the series. It follows a  female New Yorker with a bellman who watches over her to make the right decisions and an app creator who realizes lost love can be realized again. The main character in the first episode finds herself in an awkward situation when she finds out she’s pregnant from a man she barely started dating. Throughout the episode, you are immediately dropped into her desperate search for the right man. Her doorman becomes a father-like figure for her as he reigns down judgment on all the men she dates just after meeting them. 

The second episode preaches that true love will last, and that everything happens for a reason. “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist,” tells the story of a journalist who convinces her interviewee – a creator of a dating app—to pursue a former flame. It turns out that both the journalist and interviewee had past love interests that impacted the way they express love. In the end, they both influence each other to pursue their past loves and realizes that real flames don’t burn out.

Episode six, on the other hand, entitled “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?” was flat out awkward. The main character, Madeline, is on a search for a fatherlike figure in her life since she never had one. What she finds is an older man at work who she thinks can fit her fatherly need. The older man ends up thinking she’s in love with him when it’s just Madeleine’s dad’s complex showing through. For viewers who don’t share the same fondness for a thirty-year age gap, the reality of this story makes the storyline even harder to swallow.

 The New York Times describes the plotline of episode six as that of an “A young woman [Madeline] works through feelings about her late father by spending time with an older man.” It’s actually far more complex than that because she ends up realizing that what she is looking for in a man was completely wrong to begin with. But is there a moral punch that allows the viewer to see a part of themselves in the narrative.

The last episode is endearing, as it shows two older people find love. But it ends with a tragic realization that finding older love can be risky because the main character’s love interest ends up dying. 

The reason why these episodes end up not being as spectacular as their written counterparts is because they lack a proper direction. You don’t find out until the very end of episode three that Anne Hathaway’s character is bipolar, which if it was explained from the start for the viewer, would have made it an easier watch. Most of episode four is spent following the troubles of a married couple which makes the viewer at one point hoping they actually divorce. 

Viewers are bound to relate to at least one of the tales of love and trial. Some might even find that a personal resonance is more powerful than the moral message of a fairytale romance. But from an entertainment perspective, ‘aha’ moment is lacking.

But maybe, just maybe, that is the feeling we are supposed to explore on our own personal journeys of discovering the question that The New York Times was seeking to answer: What is love?