Judd Apatow’s movies tend to run rather long for romantic comedies, but that pales next to the canvas that’s available on “Love,” a 10-part Netflix series that follows the slow-gestating relationship between Gus and Mickey, as well as the assorted oddballs that surround them. Highly specific to L.A., for good and ill, the show revolves around frequently irritating protagonists that will present a challenge to viewers’ rooting interest, but there are enough moments of sheer awkwardness and bawdy humor to make this a series a core audience should be able to like, if not, you know, love.
The first episode of the show, co-created by Apatow, Lesley Arfin and series star Paul Rust, introduces Rust’s Gus, an on-set tutor for the bratty 12-year-old star of a TV series, as he discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him. Their subsequent breakup lands him in a temporary-living complex known as the Springwood, as played by Los Angeles’ post-divorce conclave, the Oakwood Apartments. (The child actor is portrayed by Apatow’s daughter, Iris, further bringing a slightly meta quality to its Hollywood commentary.)
Elsewhere, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) — who works at a satellite radio station — is ending her own toxic relationship, building toward a not-so-cute meeting. The two forge an unlikely friendship that slowly grows into something more.
Inevitably, there are countless missteps and pitfalls along the way, including her decision to try fixing him up with her slightly daft roommate (Australian comic Claudia O’Doherty), which goes disastrously (and pretty hilariously) wrong, to the point where the two are simultaneously texting her about how terrible it is.
With his halting, over-sharing, slightly nerdy manner, Rust can’t help but evoke thoughts of a young Woody Allen (even though Gus at one point specifically says the two aren’t alike), but at his core, he’s generally a nice guy. And that spurs discomfort in Mickey, who walks around with a perpetual chip on her shoulder, harbors inner demons, and is generally attracted to people who aren’t especially good for her. This prompts her to treat him lousy enough to produce what in romantic comedy terms would be the obligatory third-act crisis, which here includes the distracting presence of an actress on Gus’ show (“Ground Floor’s” Briga Heelan), who’s really nice because she’s, well, Canadian.
As the title suggests, this is all a long, slow-motion deconstruction of how a relationship can evolve, with a lot of setbacks and detours, and a strong sense of L.A. as a backdrop. Not surprisingly, that template (in which most episodes exceed 30 minutes) yields a certain hit-miss quality, from the highlight bad-date episode, and Gus and his pals writing theme songs for movies that don’t have them, to a pointless guest shot involving Andy Dick, the L.A. Metro and a couple tablets of Ecstasy.
The series is particularly well cast around the fringes, including Brett Gelman as Mickey’s boss — who dispenses on-air relationship advice — and Tracie Thomas as the prickly executive producer of the show on which Gus is working. Naturally, Gus has written a spec script, and in a later episode there’s an extended peek into the writers room that will likely resonate more within a 20-mile radius of the Hollywood sign than beyond it.
Ultimately, though, the focus on Gus and Mickey — joining a growing list of comedies about self-obsessed urban characters at different stages of the life/relationship spectrum, from “You’re the Worst” to HBO’s “Togetherness” and its Apatow-produced companion “Girls” — blunts “Love’s” appeal, leaving a show defined more by moments than by its overarching plot.
Put another way, while it was easy enough, and mildly enjoyable, to binge through the 10 episodes (all of which were made available), having now seen this extended introduction to their story, it would be hard to muster much enthusiasm for devoting another two hours — much less five — to see where this modern tale of “When Gus Met Mickey” goes from here.