Magical. Wonderful. Devastating. Complicated. Maddening. Surprising.
Romance is all those things and more, as we’re reminded by the smart and funny and touching and lovely Amazon Original anthology series “Modern Love,” starring Tina Fey, Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, Andy Garcia, John Slattery and a host of other familiar faces in various, self-contained episodes.
“Modern Love” is based on the popular New York Times column and podcast, but in style and tone and setting, it often feels like a love letter to Woody Allen’s idealized (and yes, sometimes problematic) New York of “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.”
The stories are accompanied by piano-driven numbers that sound like Gershwin Lite, and are often set in the tonier parts of Manhattan. Most of the main players are living in financial comfort. The lead character in one episode is a book reviewer who is offered a high-paying job as the literary editor for a magazine. Another character is an author who draws a big crowd to a signing at a bookstore in upstate New York. In a couple of instances, a young woman with father issues has a close relationship with a much older man.
In the opening episode, “When the Doorman Is Your Main Man,” Cristin Milioti (“How I Met Your Mother”) sparkles as Maggie, a sweet and smart and altogether enchanting young woman who is constantly seeking approval from her stoic doorman Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa), especially when it comes to her suitors. The strange and admittedly implausible bond between Maggie and Guzmin grows even stronger when Maggie’s life is turned upside down by an unexpected development. In the hands of writer-director (and “Modern Love” showrunner) John Carney, the credulity-stretching premise somehow works and results in a heart-touching story arc with just the right epilogue.
Episode 2, titled “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist,” is a two-pronged romance story worthy of a full-length feature film. Catherine Keener’s Julie is a reporter interviewing Dev Patel’s Joshua for an article about Joshua’s smash-hit dating app — but the real story emerges when Julie turns off the recorder and asks Joshua if he’s ever been in love. After Joshua tells Julie about the one great romance of his life, which ended in heartbreak, Julie shares her own intimate memories about a long-ago connection that to this day has her wondering, “What if…”
The exchange between Joshua and Julie will have profound effects on both of their lives.
Actress Emmy Rossum (“Shameless”) goes behind the camera and delivers solid directing work in an episode titled “So He Looked Liked Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?” Shea Whigham’s Peter sports a haircut and wardrobe that make him a dead ringer for mid-1980s Michael Douglas, and Julia Garner’s Maddie has a tangle of blonde curls a la Glenn Close and becomes obsessed with Peter — but this is not a commentary on “Fatal Attraction.” It’s more akin to a reboot of one of those aforementioned Woody Allen films, as told from the viewpoint of the young woman.
In the final episode, we get updates and/or new insights about the characters we’ve met in previous installments. A steady rain falls in each vignette — but in keeping with the romanticized vision of “Modern Love,” it’s a Hollywood-style rain, the kind of rain that makes everyone and everything look better.