Modern Love: Amazon Prime show offers escape

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US actress Anne Hathaway attends the Amazon Prime Video Modern Love premiere reception at the Museum of Modern Love in New York City. ANGELA WEISS/AFP

Every week, devotees of Modern Love, a Sunday column in the New York Times, read all kinds of love stories – heartwarming, heartbreaking, inspiring, infuriating.

Now, fans can get even more of the cult favourite – Amazon has adapted some of the most uplifting accounts into a feel-good series premiering on Friday that runs counter to the dark, sarcastic tone of much of today’s peak TV.

“I hope that when people watch this, their heart is opened up because I think it can’t hurt” said actress Cristin Milioti, who plays a woman seeking advice from her doorman.

Modern Love first appeared in October 2004 with an instalment entitled She dumped me. Since then, nearly 800 stories have followed.

Not all are about romantic love. Some are about platonic love, sibling love or even love for a pet. And in some columns, love hurts.

A podcast version of the wildly popular column debuted in 2016, which only served to reinforce the popularity of the stories’ format – short, poignant and intimately told by one of the people involved.

And now it comes to television, with a host of boldface names like Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Milioti, singer Ed Sheeran and more.

It is not the Times’ first foray on the small screen – it recently launched The Weekly, a documentary series.

Bright, shiny New York

Romance is front and centre in the eight 30-minute episodes of Modern Love, half of which were shot by Irish director John Carney, whose feel-good bona fides were in evidence in 2016’s Sing Street.

Daniel Jones, the column’s editor, said he receives between 8,000 and 9,000 submissions every year – and he only has 52 slots. The choices are not easy, but for the show, it was a no-brainer.

“Some Modern Love [columns] are very dark, and they didn’t go with the very dark ones,” Jones said. “It’s upbeat.”

A ray of sunshine illuminates the series, despite the heaviness of some of the plot lines, which include a character who has bipolar disorder, the death of a spouse and a gay couple tackling the adoption process.

The action all takes place in a glamorised version of New York, where apartments are spacious, public parks abound and characters spend their time in cosy restaurants and cafes.

‘Something refreshing’

Dark and sarcastic have been the buzzwords for prestige television shows from US cable channels and especially streaming services for more than a decade – perhaps mimicking the tone of the times.

Examples are dramas with major anti-heroes like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Even recent hit comedies like Fleabag, Veep and The Office have an acerbic point of view, contrary to the softer style of traditional network TV.

Modern Love does a rather notable about-face.

“I think a lot of us walk around with walls up – I know I do – because there’s so much coming at us all the time, and so much of it surprising in its unpleasantness,” Hathaway, who plays a young woman struggling with bipolar disorder, said during a roundtable on the show.

“It is nice to be in a space where you don’t have to work so hard to protect yourself,” she said, while adding: “It’s a nice little anthology, but it’s not the magic bullet that’s going to save humanity.”

British actor Gary Carr, who stars opposite Hathaway, said sometimes, “we need the escapism, something refreshing”.

For Hathaway, “romance is such a funny thing, because some people are just allergic to it, and other people – we take great comfort in it and we enjoy it and we kind of see it for what it is”.

Despite its softer edges, Modern Love does not shy away from the first part of its title – the cast is more diverse than the norm, and the issues handled are very real – and complicated.

“I’m a black gay man and I feel like I’ve seen one type of story forever and ever,” said actor Brandon Kyle Goodman, who appears in an episode about a gay couple who adopt a homeless woman’s baby.

“This series and this episode was so exciting because it’s a different take.”