In the past two months, Kendrick has "unleashed a double-barreled streaming effort on the American populace," says Michael Baumann. First, he notes, she starred in Quibi's Dummy, playing a woman who befriends a sex doll, followed by HBO Max's Love Life , which "carries the stylistic trappings of prestige cable dramedy, and the imprimatur of executive producer Paul Feig." But, Baumann adds, "here’s the problem: Love Life is not very good. Watching Kendrick in it is like watching Allen Iverson on the turn-of-the-century Sixers: a small, dynamic, eminently lovable performer trying like hell to carry an enterprise built on obsolete ideas. Love Life is built on well-traveled territory—there is no shortage of shows about 20-somethings who confuse romantic attachment with personal fulfillment, and only through attempting to find the former do they realize they’re worthy of the latter. And for good reason, since that premise has historically led to some outstanding television. But that genre is crowded enough now that its tropes are too familiar. So in order to stand out, a great show about horny but self-loathing young people has to either come up with a great gimmick (How I Met Your Mother, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), subvert the tropes somehow (the aforementioned Normal People, or the collected works of Phoebe Waller-Bridge), or execute those familiar beats with exceptional style and competency (Lovesick). Love Life is constructed in such a rote fashion that I originally assumed that it, like A Simple Favor, was mocking the genre. But it’s not funny enough to be parody, or even creative enough to be called pastiche."
Love Life wastes Anna Kendrick: "Kendrick is a smart and savvy actress-singer-pitchwoman, and Darby fits her current screen image: the petite beauty who drops F-bombs and peppers her conversations with 'dude' and has a smile as sharp as her wit," says Kristen Baldwin. "(She plays a similar type in Quibi's Dummy, but the titular sex doll, voiced by Search Party's Meredith Hagner, is the more interesting role.) One would think, in the peak-screen era of 2020, that television would have more to offer a talented, distinctive actress who earned a Tony nomination at age 12 and an Oscar nod at 24. (Up in the Air is streaming on Hulu, by the way.) But instead she gets Love Life, a show built on the carefully constructed fantasy that some stories never get old."
Love Life is watchable, but it's an odd show as HBO Max's first scripted series for adults: "This series has to help convince viewers who haven’t already been HBO subscribers that the new AT&T-owned service with HBO branding is worth their time," says Daniel D'Addario. "And it also, at least somewhat, must convince existing HBO viewers — ones who’ve watched Sex and the City or Insecure, both of which occupy similar-though-not-the-same romantic-dramedy turf — that the HBO brand is still an imprimatur of a particular sort of quality. Love Life, carefully-wrought as it is, is an odd show to fulfill that brief. It’s too low-fi to generate the sort of fireworks that, say, The Morning Show did for Apple TV Plus at launch (Anna Kendrick’s exposure at present as the star of a Quibi series, a Disney Plus movie, and the on-demand feature Trolls World Tour does not necessarily help matters). And it is not quite an HBO show. That network’s tradition of distinctive and handpicked shows is matched, somewhat, in the craft on display. But Love Life’s meandering uncertainty about its story leads to a great-looking show wobbly in a way a cabler graded on quality every time would likely force to refine and redefine."
Love Life manages to feel fresh despite covering well-trod territory: "You may think you’ve seen HBO Max‘s Love Life already in countless permutations, and you might even believe that you’ve seen a few of these variants (Girls, Sex and the City, Insecure) on HBO," says Kimberly Ricci. "That assumption might even persist for a few episodes, but as the Anna Kendrick-led, romantic-dramedy series continues to unfold, Love Life evolves into a complex affair. Yes, we’re watching another young New Yorker looking for love in almost every wrong place. This protagonist, Darby, is also one of those 20-something New Yorkers who happens to live a life that resembles a lot of romcom heroines (good job, nice apartment). She pushes through disastrous relationships with all the wrong men while supportive presences float in and out of the frame. The set-up certainly feels familiar, but somehow, the show still feels novel in many ways."
Everything about Love Life feels straight out of the 2010s: "There's Paul 'Bridesmaids' Feig as an executive producer," says Mary Elizabeth Williams. "There's a posh, omniscient narrator for Darby's relationships (provided by English actress Lesley Manville), a gimmick that's about as fresh as a mannequin challenge. Each episode is named, pretentiously, for a significant person in Darby's life. And who knew that 'love' is a word that can be applied not just to heteronormative romantic relationships? Oh wait, that's everybody. This was covered in the first episode of Sex and the City. Keep up. Female-led, romance-driven storytelling often suffers from the unfair reputation for being somehow less important than guys in superhero suits or cars blowing up. And that's insulting, because shows like Insecure, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin and High Fidelity (to name just a few recent examples) never just offered straight up solid entertainment, they also provided some of our richest, most emotionally complex depictions of the human condition in popular entertainment....She is the flawed, hopeful spiritual kin of Carrie Bradshaw and Hannah Horvath, a comparison I resent having to make, because why are we still invoking these characters in 2020? Why are we still being asked to watch these not great women having their mediocre New York City adventures in personal growth while their much more interesting lovers and best friends suffer on the sidelines?"
Love Life likely became HBO Max's first scripted series (not starring Elmo) because of availability: "Love Life boasts an interesting and potentially innovative anthology structure but introduces that format with the most conventional and least interesting incarnation imaginable," says Daniel Fienberg. "It's a toothless, dull proof-of-concept that any network or service could have produced, made more worrisome if it's also meant to be a toothless, dull proof-of-concept for HBO Max. The gimmick to Love Life, created by Sam Boyd, is that it uses a single season to chart a character's emotional journey from first romance to last. For the first few episodes of the season, the story is told with a romance-per-episode structure, but that's abandoned around halfway, with episodes that lay a flimsy foundation for the main character's romantic patterns. So it isn't even exactly a proof-of-concept so much as a proof of lack-of-conviction. Either way, it's a pretty good idea for a show, albeit one that demands a dynamic main character with a dynamic set of dating experiences leading to an interesting personal evolution on the road to love. Instead we get a bland story of a pretty 20-something white woman living beyond her means in New York City, going through a series of heteronormative relationships and one-night stands marked by minor incompatibility, temporary inconvenience and collective, muted banality."
Love Life would never pass muster on premium cable: "Unlike, say, HBO’s landmark comedy Sex and the City, Love Life really only cares about one story, not bothering to flesh out compelling supporting characters or even define its lead beyond her relationships, which restricts its time-hopping structure and ambitious premise to one-note dreck," says Ben Travers.