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Over the course of Love’s three seasons, Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust have transformed a simple concept—two toxic, self-sabotaging people recklessly fall for one another against all odds—into a gripping, tempestuous saga of love triumphing over conventional wisdom, constant red flags, and a disapproving choir of friends and family. The dysfunctional romantic comedy’s third and final season takes a characteristically unflinching look at Gus and Mickey’s struggle to build a healthy relationship, even as they fight to resist their self-destructive tendencies and the temptation to run back to their old lives. They’re in it for the long haul this time, which makes for a slightly tamer season of Love, but one that also forces its protagonists to grapple with big-picture questions that will set the course for their futures—individually and together.
Love’s third season opens with Gus and Mickey reveling in a state that seemed unfathomable just a few episodes ago: domestic bliss. They’ve been dating for about six months now, which Mickey’s friend Syd calls “the best part of any relationship.” “You’re not freaked out because you know you like each other, and everything’s still new and the sex is really hot,” she says with motherly approval and a slight twinge of jealousy.
Yet even as their infatuation grows, Mickey and Gus still have to wrestle with plenty of external factors, the most immediate being the other couple in their proximity: Mickey’s roommate Bertie and her slacker boyfriend, Randy, who’s long outworn his welcome lounging around their house in a bathrobe all day. Randy tries to be a stand-up boyfriend but often fails spectacularly, like when he drives the gang out to his cousin’s “vacation house” in “Palm Springs” that turns out to be a dilapidated, lizard-infested shit-hole in a Podunk town. Predictably, the trip ends in a four-way screaming match, and it dawns on Bertie that getting into a relationship with Randy as soon as she moved to Los Angeles was just another way of settling after she left her home in Australia.
The other, more formidable obstacle in Gus and Mickey’s relationship: their own senses of fulfillment, personally and professionally. Mickey’s killing it at the radio station and finally taking pride in her job, but she still has to deal with her tyrannical co-worker Dr. Greg, the so-called psychotherapist who mocks her sobriety and dares her to relapse. She’s still attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings as well, where she confesses that she’s just waiting to see how she sabotages her relationship since she doesn’t feel like she deserves to be happy at work and at home simultaneously.
Meanwhile, Gus is back to teaching on set at Witchita, subject to more cruelty from a bratty group of new child actors and his miserable, genuinely evil co-workers. He feels his career prospects slipping away before his very eyes, and he’s too scared and ashamed to admit it to Mickey, especially while she’s thriving at work. These feelings of inadequacy come out during Gus’ own S.L.A.A. meetings, where he wonders if he and Mickey only like each other “because she’s messed up,” and fears that he’s like a bowl of mac and cheese, which starts off great and becomes nauseating by the end. Rust has been perfecting this persona for three seasons now, and it’s heartbreaking to watch him sigh dejectedly, scrunch his face, and say, “I don’t want her to get sick of me.”
Of course, this is still a romantic comedy, and Love offers plenty of signature off-color humor, from Gus unwittingly broadcasting his shitty porn over an outdoor Bluetooth speaker to him and Mickey gleefully imagining their future couples therapy sessions. There’s no shortage of cataclysmic fights either, which are even more gut-wrenching this season because Gus and Mickey should know better. Mickey can’t stop herself from picking a fight after running into Gus’ ex-fiancée at a wedding, and Gus chastises Mickey incessantly for getting him sick when she thought she just had food poisoning. They’re the best things in each other’s lives, but they still struggle to realize they could destroy everything if they don’t keep their old toxic behavior in check.
Despite the turbulent dynamics of Gus and Mickey’s relationship, Love devotes more attention than ever to its supporting cast, some of whom are much easier to root for than the stars themselves. Feeling threatened by the deluge of new child actors on set, Witchita star Arya (played by Apatow’s daughter, Iris) begrudgingly acknowledges Gus’ friendship and agrees to appear in the new project he’s directing. Gus’ affable neighbor Chris struggles to maintain his dignity working at a steakhouse as he pushes toward his dream of becoming a professional stuntman, meanwhile finding joy in his illicit tryst with Bertie. Even Dr. Greg, before he practically outs himself as a men’s rights activist, shows a wounded vulnerability as his book premiere flops and he feels himself getting shut out of the radio station he helped put on the map.
As writers, Apatow, Arfin, and Rust deserve credit for creating so many new conflicts while also tying up loose ends from Love’s first two seasons, but some issues feel abandoned rather than resolved. The entire season seems to hint at Mickey confessing to Gus about hooking up with Dustin while he was out of town, but alas, it never comes. Randy shows virtually no growth over the course of the season either, essentially coming off as a laughably pathetic punching bag. But in a way, these unresolved plot threads mimic real life, where relationship crises inexplicably subside and some people just don’t get their lives together, despite their best intentions.
Ultimately, Love sits head and shoulders above its rom-com contemporaries because viewers can see themselves in Gus and Mickey, despite how awful they can be. Everybody knows—or will know—what it’s like to be wary of their own triumphs and happiness, to wonder when it will all come crashing down around them, to watch their partner struggle to put on a brave face and wish desperately that they could pull them out of their tailspin of disappointment and self-doubt. And, just like Gus and Mickey, they know what it’s like to love boldly in the face of adversity because all they’ve got is each other.
Love technically has a happy ending—you’ll have to watch it for yourself to see what that means—but its characters’ greatest triumph is learning how to love themselves.
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Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.