10:30am PT by Lexy Perez
'Love Life' Creator Looks to Pass the Baton to a New Story in Season 2
[This story contains spoilers from the Love Life season one finale.]
Sam Boyd was in the middle of penning a feature script when he decided to write something on the side whenever he'd "hit a wall." As he took time to flesh out his story, "something kind of clicked" and turned into the pilot for what would become HBO Max's most important series, anthology Love Life.
"It was just this string of dominoes that fell in just the right way," Boyd tells The Hollywood Reporter. His pilot, inspired by exploring the ways that our relationships make us who we are, caught the interest of Paul Feig and Anna Kendrick, who were fresh off of A Simple Favor. Kendrick was quickly cast as the show's lead, her first series-regular role.
While Love Life was originally planned to be part of HBO Max's launch slate, the series — after the novel coronavirus shut down production across the industry — would become the upstart streamer's most vital show after the high-profile Friends reunion was unable to be filmed. Days after its May 27 launch, WarnerMedia executives were impressed by the show's consumption (HBO Max does not release viewership data), and the streamer sped up Love Life's rollout from a planned eight-week run into a more binge-worthy three weeks.
Love Life centers on protagonist Darby (played by Kendrick) as she embarks on a journey of finding love and herself. The series title uses love as both an adjective and a verb as viewers watch the trials and tribulations of Darby's love life, all the while exploring the complexities of her identity as she grows into a content, confident woman. Shortly after making its debut, the anthology series was picked up for a second season (marking the first renewal from HBO Max) which will follow a new protagonist's journey to love.
Below, the creator and co-showrunner chats with THR about Love Life's high-profile launch, writing a rom-com without relying on tropes and his plans for the second season (which may or may not incorporate COVID-19 into its narrative).
Love Life was HBO Max's first scripted original and most high-profile debut at launch. Did you feel any pressure after inheriting that distinction when the Friends reunion was delayed?
You would think there's pressure that comes with it and I guess there is, but I didn't really feel that. It was always about the people we were working with there and the fact that they understood what our show was and supported that. We were lucky enough to have finished filming. They had other shows they were planning to release at the time and everything got thrown into disarray all across the industry. We were always supposed to be one of their first shows and it was not until the very end that we became the only one. It was nice to be a priority for a new company.
The rollout was sped up from its original release plan. Was that something you were expecting? Did you write season one with the expectation it would be a weekly rollout or a binge?
The way that it happened made perfect sense, especially with the show being a half-hour. The episodes go by so fast; even if someone doesn't love the show, it's pretty digestible if nothing else. Whether we end up releasing them all at once in the future or in batches, the show definitely benefited from having more than one [episode drop] at a time.
What were the challenges of diving into the complexities of one character in short increments?
One of the things with something that is more character-driven and lower concept, it's easy for those things to feel boring. When we're packing so much in and, in any given episode, we're watching ostensibly the initiation, rise, sustaining and disillusion of an entire relationship in half an hour. We still found room for the quiet moments and it's by no means a sensory overload. The thing that helped anchor this season is that it's about eight years in this person's life and we have five hours across these kinds of capsules that depict each of her relationships and show her growth. That steadied us. We tried to get as creative as possible because we knew that it would be boring for viewers if, every time, it was like, "OK, she meets him, they like each other and they don't like each other and they break up." We needed to break out of that as soon as we could.
Each of Darby's suitors was designed to represent universal dating experiences in some fashion. How did you work to avoid traditional rom-com tropes and subvert expectations?
I love romantic comedies, but we were using the genre as a Trojan horse to actually explore other things, like her relationship with her mother. It started with all the writers saying, "What have we been through? Who have you fallen in love with? Who have you fallen out of love with? What are those stories?" We used those anecdotes and real experiences as starting points for authenticity and specificity. It felt more real than what you would normally see in a romantic comedy.
Darby's "meant to be" person isn't introduced until the last episode. Was it always intended to show less of their dynamic in comparison to the other relationships?
We talked a lot about the ending and wanted to lean into the things that work and felt real. There are so many ways to end a story like that and it was really daunting. What are we trying to show? What are we trying to say? For instance, if you have her end up with Augie (Jin Ha), are we then saying, "Oh, just hang in there and you can go make a bunch of other mistakes, but you're really going to end up with like the person you were with when you were 22." That sometimes happens. But how often does that really happen? What we tried to show with Grant is you just fall in love one more time and how can we have the finale be the story of her falling in love for the last time, but also the story of where things go in all other aspects of her life, with her friendships and her family and her professional life. It just ultimately felt like the right way to us to wrap up this story and show that she ends up being romantically fulfilled, but also as a way to try to deemphasize that and not make it all about the guy. It's one of those things to go back to a cliche: The journey is the destination.
We knew from the start that this would be an anthology, with season two focusing on a different love story. How much will Darby remain part of the central narrative? How much of the rest of the cast will return and how much will they be involved?
We really want season two to feel interconnected with the world of the first season, while still starting fresh and following a new character and telling us a whole new story that feels different, unexpected and fun. I don't want to give too much away about the ways that it's connected but it's important to us that it feels like it takes place in this extended universe. We have a fun way we can keep Darby floating in and out through this world. It's more of a baton pass to this new protagonist. We would never want to give Darby short shrift by branching off to some other story that isn't related to her. We want our new protagonist to be front and center even though they are still within the world of the first season.
Would you consider turning the central character into a person of color — or telling a love story from the man's point of view?
Depending on how many seasons we get to do, we always want to shift and look at protagonists of different genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations and socioeconomic classes. The hope is that it feels like Love Life is set in the real world and shares a universe with these characters. That would include following men and LGBTQ characters and all of the many different kinds of people that make up our world and what it's like for them to be a person and to love people.
As you're considering options for the second season, will COVID-19 be written into the series?
In a lot of shows you can maybe get away with it being some parallel universe, but in season one, we really leaned into the kind of cultural markers of the times that we were looking at and the places. The first season takes place from 2012 to essentially just after New Year's 2019, which is six months ago and before everything went nuts. I do think we are a show that it would be hard for us pretending it never happened, especially with everything. I want it to feel like our world and want to acknowledge as many of those events as possible, but we also don't want a bunch of episodes that take place over Zoom. Even when we were shooting the finale, we were doing some pickups in March right before everything shut down, I was thinking, "Do we have to acknowledge this? If this is a few months after New Year's, do we have to have her try to stay 6 feet away from this elderly woman in the art gallery? Can they not hug?" We kind of skirted it for her for the finale of season one, but we're definitely going to have to find a way to incorporate it into season two, even if it's jumping past it. If it happens in a gap between episodes, I think it'll have to happen within the world of our show. We'll see.
New York is very much a central character in this show, but would you consider shooting the series elsewhere — perhaps abroad, where the pandemic is under better control?
Nothing is off the table. New York is a big part of the story, but there are many magical cities in the world. Right now we're focusing on New York. We want for it to feel like in season one with someone who's walking down this side of the street in New York, and then we go to the other side of the street, pick up with someone else and follow their life that they've been living this whole time in this city as well. That's an important part of this next story we're telling, but ultimately as we move forward, we want to mix things up as much as possible and never tell the same story twice. So that'll involve changing every possible element.
Now that season one and the story with those characters are possibly done, what would you hope people take away from this chapter?
We worked very hard to tell a story that was entertaining and satisfying for audiences, but that also felt true, maybe a little more melancholy or, at certain moments, sadder than other romantic comedies. I think a big part of it is there are no answers. A big part of it was us not wanting to say any one thing about it, for us to just show what it's like to be in love [and] for hopefully people to see themselves in it and to recognize the world … and know that love is just as hard for us.
Interview was edited for length and clarity.