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Despite the Big Names Involved, 'Modern Love' Doesn't Create Much Affection
October 18, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Amazon Prime’s well-promoted new Modern Love would seem to have it all: a great cast of A-list actors, a pre-tested story niche, and the promise of snappy half-hour episodes that won’t tax the modern attention span.

So it’s mildly disappointing that Modern Love, which premieres Friday on the streaming service, plays like something that often could, with the removal of a few naughty words, feel right at home on Hallmark.

Nothing against Hallmark. But Modern Love, which dramatizes eight stand-alone vignettes from the popular New York Times column of the same name, felt like it promised something more.

Something more, well, modern.

Stories that had some edge, suspense and twists in print too often feel formulaic as dramatized productions.

Following the long-established template of newspaper advice columns, the episodes begin with a serious, perhaps debilitating problem and then slide toward a solution. In the case of Modern Love, that means planting the seeds of that solution early and then allotting 20-25 minutes for those seeds to spring up and bloom.

Given their genesis in a New York newspaper, the stories have an urban flavor. There are more apartments than ranch houses, and the protagonists tend to be young career women navigating the big city as well as their private lives.

Contrary to what the promos might suggest, that doesn’t make Modern Love an anthology version of Sex and the City. Most of the modern lovers here are not living the glamorous life.

In the first episode, which sets a tone, Cristin Milioti plays Maggie, a young woman who has a great apartment and a close relationship with her doorman. No, not that kind of relationship. He’s a surrogate father figure, and that role becomes critical when Maggie reaches one of those junctures where the whole future of her life could go one way or the other.

Like several other episodes, it eventually becomes a two-character drama. That’s not a bad thing. At certain moments it’s heartwarming. There just isn’t much sparkle.

Anne Hathaway (top), one of the other big "gets" for Modern Love along with the likes of Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Andy Garcia, and Julia Garner, stars in the third episode as a smart lawyer with a medical condition that threatens not to end her life, but to sidetrack it.

The episode focuses on how she finally deals with the condition, and while that will no doubt feel inspirational to some viewers, it’s not particularly well fleshed out as drama. We’re left with a number of questions about, for instance, how she could have gotten as far as she did and not dealt with it before.

Modern Love, the column, has succeeded because it reports how real-life people have coped with difficult situations. There’s something inherently inspirational and reassuring in the premise that it can be done.

But it may feel more inspiring on paper, where readers can let their own minds and imaginations fill in some of the pictures. Film locks in images and conversations. It directs our imaginations where to go.

Too often, it feels a little neater than life, an aura that has served Hallmark well. Viewers here may want a little more nuance.

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