Love is in the air as anthology series Modern Love returns to Amazon for its second season. Based on the New York Times column of the same name, Modern Love Season 2 recruits a new star-studded cast to tell eight more stories of love, lust, and heartbreak and the many stages of romance in between. As with any anthology, certain episodes will be stronger than others (and some are just outright bad). We've taken the guesswork out of the equation by ranking of each of the show's Season 2 episodes, from best to worst:
Modern Love’s best Season 2 episode is also its least complicated. Set in the world of middle school girls, “Am I…? Maybe This Quiz Will Tell Me” centers on Katie (Lulu Wilson, The Haunting of Hill House), a teen who relies on Buzzfeed quizzes for insight into her sexuality. Katie says she’s “100% positive” that she’s straight, but when she bonds with another girl (Grace Edwards) during a school lock-in, she begins to reckon with her true feelings. Unlike many of the other episodes in Modern Love Season 2, “Am I…” focuses on the small moments that inform our identities and relationships — a strategy that future seasons would be smart to adopt.
Tobias Menzies is best known to American audiences for his performances in The Crown and Outlander, but he tries something completely different in “A Second Embrace, With Hearts and Eyes Open,” and it works. Menzies plays Ivan, a single father who rekindles his relationship with his ex-wife, Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo), after a particularly terrible school recital (nothing brings people together quite like children playing instruments poorly ). But just as things are starting to get serious again, Elizabeth receives a life-changing medical diagnosis, prompting her and Ivan to reevaluate their priorities.
Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) is excellent as a physician deciding whether to sell her late husband’s prized Mustang in the U.K.-set. season opener. Stephanie sees the car as her last remaining tie to her husband, and she spends much of the episode “talking” to him and remembering their life together. Despite the over-reliance on flashbacks, “On a Serpentine Road” functions as a moving reflection on grief and memory that will send some viewers running for a tissue box.
Like “Am I...?,” “A Life Plan for Two, Followed by One” tells a coming-of-age story about childhood crushes and learning to love oneself. When Lil (played as a child by Milan Ray, and as a young adult by Dominique Fishback) moves to Brooklyn, she immediately falls in love with her new best friend, Vince (Pierson Salvador and Isaac Powell). Over the years, Lil’s crush intensifies, and although Vince has relegated her to the “friend zone,” she remains convinced they’re meant to be together. It’s not the most novel love story, but it’s told with plenty of heart — and it features some legitimately funny stand-up from present-day Lil.
This is where our Modern Love Season 2 rankings start to cross over to the dark side. Episode 2, “The Night Girl Finds a Day Boy,” follows a woman (Zoe Chao) with delayed sleep phase syndrome who finally meets the love of her life, played by Gbenga Akinnagbe. The only problem? He works as a teacher and therefore keeps typical hours, whereas she lives her life at night, when the rest of the city is asleep. The concept is interesting, but Chao and Akinnagbe’s mismatched chemistry fails to convince us why these two are perfect for each other in the first place.
Andrew Rannells (Girls, The Boys in the Band) wrote and directed this episode about two men (Marquis Rodriguez and Zane Pais) who run into each other on the street, bringing back memories of their first and only date. As we see the date unfold, it becomes clear that they don’t remember the night the same way, and the action shifts between their different perspectives, Rashomon-style, over the course of the 25-minute episode. “How Do You Remember Me?” clearly thinks it’s saying something about memory and shared experiences, but apart from reuniting viewers with Gossip Girl’s Darota (Zuzanna Szadkowski), it doesn’t achieve much.
There are wasted opportunities, and then there’s “In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses.” The episode sounds like a slam dunk: Anna Paquin and Garrett Hedlund play a housewife and a former marine who develop an unlikely connection when they learn that their spouses are having an affair with each other. In a misguided attempt to showcase Spence’s (Hedlund) emotional instability, however,“Waiting Room” relies on imagined battle scenes that are tonally out of place (in one, Spence imagines he’s throwing “grenades” at Paquin’s ex-husband in a grocery store, sending “shrapnel” flying down the canned goods aisle). Modern Love presents these scenes without even a hint of irony, ensuring that viewers will still be rolling their eyes when moments of actual connection emerge.
Modern Love boss John Carney just couldn’t pass up the chance to shoehorn COVID-19 into Season 2. The season’s third episode puts a romantic spin on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train with a story that sees two strangers (Kit Harington and Lucy Boynton) meet on a train from Galway to Dublin on March 13, 2020. The two hit it off, but rather than exchange numbers, they decide to meet back at the train station in two weeks… and then a pandemic shuts down Ireland (and the rest of the world). Harington and Boynton clearly have chemistry, but they’re only together on screen for about 13 minutes; their characters then spend the episode's remaining 22 minutes (22 full minutes!) wondering aloud whether they should violate Dublin’s lockdown restrictions in order to make their assigned meet-up. After 18 months of pandemic-ness, it’s extremely uncompelling to watch people weigh their personal desires against their obligations to society at large, and then proceed to make a choice that does nothing to further the common good. Read the room, guys.
All eight episodes of Modern Love Season 2 premiere Friday August 13 on Amazon Prime Video.
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Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.