Frustratingly, it’s what “Love Life” lacks when stacked against its predecessor that most defines it: Carrie Bradshaw is a person, and Darby Carter is a premise. This anthology series, executive produced by Paul Feig and Kendrick with co-showrunners Boyd and Bridget Bedard (“Transparent”), has an engaging enough conceit: It’s meant to follow one person per season from their first love to their last. For Darby (Kendrick), who moved to New York to “find herself” and then found herself an impossibly cool career and an apartment that’s just impossible, that journey begins with Augie (Jin Ha of “Devs”) and moves on through a predictable stable of guys (and only guys)—there’s the handsome older man, the charismatic user, the hot dum-dum who isn’t boyfriend material, the high school crush with whom she unexpectedly reconnects, the list goes on. Then there are the loves of her life beyond romance: her parents (James LeGros and a predictably excellent Hope Davis), and her friends and roommates Sara (series standout Zoë Chao), Mallory (Sasha Compère, appallingly underutilized), and Sara’s boyfriend Jim (Peter Vack). And that’s about it. She has a brother, and the occasional co-worker, and for one far too brief stretch a therapist, but Darby’s life is unavoidably defined by her romances in the eyes of both the character and the writers. In both cases, it’s a mistake that’s deeply damaging.
“Love Life” is far from the first story to follow a person who has centered her own life on the pursuit of romantic love, nor is it the first to acknowledge that she’s doing so, to her detriment. (For a much, much better example, see The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which is also considerably filthier—quite a feat, considering the network in question.) “Love Life” makes the mistake of doing the same, and that’s apparent from the first hour. That it recovers at all is due mainly to Kendrick, an immensely engaging performer who not only convincingly ages Darby year by year but who also manages to make up for the show’s total disinterest in her life outside her romantic pairings—I promise you, Kendrick is far more intrigued by Darby’s career in art and antiquities than Boyd and Bedard ever were. It’s also helpful that she could evidently conjure chemistry with a paper bag, as her scenes with all the men in her life attest, particularly those with John Gallagher, Jr. (though Ha and Scoot McNairy also stand out).
But even Kendrick’s considerable talent and skill can’t make up for the show’s overall flimsiness. It’s a real problem that “Love Life” has more in common with Amazon’s anthology “Modern Love” than it does with shows like “Girls,” Hulu’s “High Fidelity, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” or “Jane the Virgin.” There’s precious little that connects these romances to each other, save Darby and New York City. If that sounds backward, if it seems like there should be no need to link them because they’re all part of Darby’s story, then congratulations, you have arrived at precisely the problem with “Love Life.” Despite Kendrick’s best efforts, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is simply a collection of short stories in which the same person happens to figure, without any connective tissue. With one exception, it’s difficult to see how she learns, grows, and is scarred by these pairings, but nor is this a story of how she’s doomed to repeat old patterns over and over again. She’s just there, and the show happens to her.