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If you are of the mind that no holiday is complete without a sugar rush, With Love aims to satisfy that craving. The new rom-com series by Gloria Calderón Kellet weaves together not one, not two, but four interconnected love stories over not one, not two, but five holidays. Think a super-sized Love Actually, if Love Actually weren’t so cagey about how its characters are connected.
With shows as with desserts, though, there’s such a thing as sugar overload — it all depends on your tolerance for sweetness. Myself, I found that consuming an episode or two of With Love could be pure pleasure, but that gorging all five left me feeling simultaneously overstuffed and hungry for more substance.
Airdate: Friday, Dec. 17
Cast: Emeraude Toubia, Mark Indelicato, Rome Flynn, Desmond Chiam, Vincent Rodriguez III, Isis King, Todd Grinnell, Constance Marie, Benito Martinez
Creator: Gloria Calderón Kellet
With Love‘s most winning quality is Calderón Kellet’s ability to sell a big-hearted and tight-knit family dynamic, as previously demonstrated in One Day at a Time. In the first episode (of five), the Mexican American Diaz clan gather for a Nochebuena celebration crammed in every corner with gossipy aunts or well-meaning cousins. When these relatives crowd the frame with offers to set up the recently single Lily (Emeraude Toubia) or questions about bisexuality for her brother Jorge (Mark Indelicato) and his boyfriend Henry (Vincent Rodriguez III), the conviviality feels so thick you can almost smell the homemade empanadas. How can you not want good things for the Diaz family after watching them cheer each other on during an enthusiastically awful karaoke rendition of “A Whole New World”?
And good things do come to them, in great and generous quantities. Jorge and Lily enjoy at least a couple of grand romantic gestures each — Jorge thanks to Henry’s efforts to affirm that he’s in it for the long haul, and Lily from various suitors eager to be her new “can’t live without you” love. Cousin Sol (Isis King, a confident charmer) embarks on a new relationship with their hospital colleague Miles (Todd Grinnell) that’s all bashful smiles, touching surprises and solid laughs — like when the pair banter over a hospital patient alternately amused and annoyed that her doctors are spending more time eyeing each other than the cut on her hand.
The only thread that tilts more bittersweet than sweet-sweet involves Jorge and Lily’s parents, Jorge Sr. (Benito Martinez) and Beatriz (a very graceful Constance Marie), who have a brush with infidelity that forces them to reassess their decades-old marriage. But even their journey conjures plenty of butterflies along the way. With Love demonstrates a refreshing commitment to seeking out the kinds of couples who so often go overlooked in mainstream rom-coms. Here’s an older couple navigating sex; here are trans and queer characters defined by joy rather than trauma; here are Latino, Afro-Latino and Asian characters whose backgrounds aren’t incidental, but celebrated and fundamental aspects of their identities.
But With Love‘s fixation on a specific image of true love can steamroll everything else in its path — including, at times, the characters themselves. We know Santiago (Rome Flynn) is a cynic who doesn’t believe in love because he keeps spouting generic dialogue claiming he is. Beyond that, With Love doesn’t bother engaging with his stance in any serious way. It’s just a quality assigned to him so he and hopeless romantic Lily can have something to spar about.
At least Santiago gets to stick around, though. Another major character, sweet himbo Nick (Desmond Chiam) all but disappears once his utility to a certain storyline has worn out, with a swiftness that borders on coldness — we’re barely allowed a breath to wonder how he feels about anything that’s happened to him.
On the other hand, seen in another light, With Love‘s lack of any real complications might be part of its charm. The series does make gestures toward acknowledging that love can be complex, particularly in Jorge and Beatriz’s plotline: “True partnership takes sweat and commitment and drive,” the worried mother stresses to her starry-eyed daughter late in the series. But the series’ overall stance seems better exemplified by a declaration from Lily earlier in the episode, that “there are two ways of living life — as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is.” With Love, like Lily, chooses the latter.
And if that means the series occasionally seems to get lost in its own fairy tale, the fantasy it’s selling is still a joyful one. There are few problems on With Love that can’t be solved with an eloquent declaration of love or a mad dash to the airport or, in one case, a heroic punch to the face, and it’s almost always cathartic when that solution comes. Depending on your mood, it might not matter that much if the storylines wrap up a little too neatly, or the supporting characters feel a little bit flat, or no one seems to have any life outside their family and love interests. With Love is a warm hug of a show that pulls you in and reassures you everything’s going to be all right. Even if it’s not entirely true, it can be nice to pretend for a moment that it is.
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