The charm of the New York Times’s “Modern Love” column is its slice-of-life, “truth is stranger than fiction” type of storytelling. From the page of a newspaper or the click of a link, the long-running Sunday Style column transports audiences around the world and immerses them in the best kinds of love stories: real ones.
When Amazon Prime adapted eight of those stories in 2019, much ado was made about the star power that participated. Adored actors like Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, Tina Fey, and Catherine Keener brought their revered talents to the small screen for stories that depicted love in its many forms—familial, romantic, companionship—all exploring the depths of human emotion just 30 minutes at a time.
But Season 1 was also slightly uneven, with some stories feeling more cinematic than others. The strongest episodes were ones that featured an unusual relationship at its core: the rapport between a woman and her doorman, or between two widowers who bond over their love of running. Other stories left you feeling downright uncomfortable (the Julia Garner-led episode about a woman who tries to fill the dad-shaped void in her heart with an illicit relationship with her boss comes to mind) or even worse, bored (I love tennis, but was bored to tears by Tina Fey and John Slattery’s episode).
The second season’s greatest triumph is that it picks better stories to adapt. As a longtime reader of the column, there are always certain installments that stick with you longer than others, whether it’s because the experience is aspirational, educational, or downright recognizable. Season 1 tried too hard to pick unique stories, and it lost some of the relatability of showing a tale that everyone can see themselves in. Season 2 course-corrects and focuses on more universal experiences, like falling in love with your best friend, questioning your sexuality, wondering what it would be like to run into an ex on the street, or meeting a stranger in your own rom-com-style meet cute. Ultimately, the standout episodes in Season 2 are often the simplest.
Kit Harrington, Minnie Driver, Anna Paquin and other A-list stars again join the new season, but it’s Dominique Fishback (Judas and the Black Messiah), headlining the fourth episode, who steals the entire show. As a headstrong and determined girl who is secretly in love with her best friend but can’t get out of the friend zone, Fishback shows incredible restraint in her performance. Her face tells you everything: the years of yearning, the upset of rejection, the hope of possibility. That her episode plays like a rom-com is no accident, and she fully steps up to the plate as our romantic lead.
Harrington’s episode takes us to the early days of the pandemic and questions the core idea at the heart of every romantic story: are these people meant to be? “Strangers on a Train” plays with the idea of romantic gestures when two people who have met and hit it off on a train from Galway to Dublin decide not to exchange phone numbers and instead meet at the train station two weeks later. Pandemic-era television has been hit-or-miss, but this episode—not focused on how we coped or how we yearned for human connection—is only concerned with the idea that fate has intervened in an unnerving way, and it’s refreshing to remember how selfish we all used to allow ourselves to be.
That’s not to say that every single episode hits it out of the park. The Anna Paquin-led story about a couple that hits it off after finding out their spouses are having an affair sounds like it’d be a rich tapestry for a plot to unfold, but the performances and story beats ultimately fall flat. And Minnie Driver’s episode about a woman struggling to let go of a car that belonged to her late husband is good, but not great.
Still, the greatest strength of an anthology like this is that it shows varied, interesting stories that capture the human spirit. So while there are some weak episodes in Season 2, they are still enjoyable—and the best episodes this season are even shinier than those of the first. As far as heartwarming storytelling goes, Season 2 of Modern Love is worth a watch from start to finish.
Modern Love Season 2 premieres Friday, August 13th on Amazon Prime.
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, and will be featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
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