‘Love Life’ Creator Sam Boyd on Subverting Rom-Com Conventions & Season 2 Hopes
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1 of Love Life.]
In Season 1 of the anthology, Darby’s story concludes unexpectedly but is not unwelcome as viewers follow her from episode to episode and year after year as she experiences a number of different romantic relationships as well as familial bonds. In the season finale, Darby’s co-parenting with her former love Augie (Jin Ha) after they found themselves pregnant but romantically incompatible.
On an evening away from her new role, Darby hopes to enjoy a grown-up night at her friend’s wedding, where she ends up meeting Grant (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a charming man who we later learn is “the one.” Reaching some career success as well, Darby’s chaotic life finally reaches a plateau, allowing her to reap the rewards of life experience.
We caught up with series creator Sam Boyd, who is opening up about subverting expectations with this unique rom-com, hopes for future seasons, collaborating with Kendrick and much more.
The series follows Darby’s romantic relationships, but is that what the show’s really about? Or is it more about her finding herself?
Sam Boyd: It’s funny, because with a romantic story, especially one as stripped down as this, there are only so many outcomes. We’ve seen the happy ending, and we’ve also seen the ending [where] the person’s like “I’ve learned to love myself.” You know? We were very aware of the different ways that we could end this story. I think we were really interested in showing Darby’s romantic fulfillment, but we also wanted to show her growth as an individual.
I think ultimately, the show is just about the connections that we have in our lives and how they make us who we are. It just felt like it would be interesting to do a case study of a person where we’re exploring and examining each of those interpersonal connections, whether they’re romantic or not. I never thought it was going to actually be a TV show, so having to actually stick the landing was definitely something that I thought about a lot and I had a long time to think about it. Ultimately we leave it in this place that I think feels really right to everyone.
Darby’s “person” Grant shows up rather late in the game. Was it always part of the plan that he’d play a smaller role in comparison to Darby’s other relationships?
You know, it’s funny, because from the beginning I was really interested in trying to push the boundaries structurally of what a show like this can be. We were really interested in the time jumps between episodes and being able to use those. If [it had been] Augie — who was there all along — or you have it be Danny Two Phones (Gus Halper), that feels a little bit too much like a TV show. I know it’s funny because it is a TV show, but we were in a weird way trying to make a show that didn’t feel like a TV show.
It just felt the most honest and real in a season comprised of short stories about different phases or connections in this young woman’s life. It wasn’t steadfast from the beginning, but the finale followed in the tradition of the other episodes, the story of the last time she fell in love. Then we have relationships that transcend the boundaries of single episodes or characters, whether it’s Bradley (Scoot McNairy) being planted in the pilot or Magnus (Nick Thune) across the middle of the season. But I think, for us, it was a combination of having cast Kingsley Ben-Adir who is so charming and has such good chemistry with Anna that I think the second we knew it was going to be him, we felt really confident that we had an ending. It just felt truer.
From the earliest versions of the season, [Augie] was always going to come back and they were never going to end up together. We were interested in not telling that story where it was really that first person all along, which just feels a little bit like a fantasy. We thought it would be really cool and still entertaining, but more honest to show the ways that [Darby and Augie] had grown apart and the ways that they would still be able to stay in each other’s lives, even though they realized they weren’t romantically compatible. That freed up the finale for us to just show her fall in love one more time.
Not every episode is about a romantic relationship either. What made Episodes 7 and 8 the perfect time to explore Darby’s connection with her mother Claudia (Hope Davis) and Sara (Zoe Chao)?
I think you have to earn stuff like that. When a show is called Love Life and the idea is that every episode is about one person’s relationships, people are expecting romantic stories. And so you have Augie, Bradley and Danny Two Phones, but we wanted to start breaking convention with the Magnus episodes.
We were eager to subvert it almost as quickly as we could, which I think started with Magnus. But then once we got through that cycle of episodes, we felt like it was time to branch out. We had set up this relationship with Hope that we were really excited about. I was really inspired by how much ambitious and incredible storytelling there has been in half hour television over the last five or ten years [in shows like] Ramy or Girls or Atlanta, just finding new ways to use the real estate of a season.
It felt like we had to earn those stories, get to know those characters, especially in the case of Sara, who filled the archetype of sitcom friend so that we could then really flesh her out as this whole person. We were interested in starting with archetypes, to explore the real versions of those. What’s it really like to be that friend?
What relationship do you think was the most important in Darby’s love life?
It’s hard to pick just one, the two answers that come to mind are the pilot only because it kind of sets her off on this journey. And I think because of the way we end it, where Augie’s pulled away for work that she then is able for the rest of the season and this story to ask herself, what if. That fuels her the entire time. Then I would say the Magnus relationship, which is a very complicated one. We wanted it to be funny and entertaining, but we also wanted it to be true to the reality.
We would be lying if we told this whole story and didn’t have her spend some time with someone who got pretty toxic and scary. The way that that story culminates at the end of episode six was a moment we always talked about in the writer’s room, pinpointing it as just this kind of inflection point where she finally harnesses her anger and her feelings and lets herself feel what she’s feeling and let’s herself express it. So I feel like that is a really important tipping point for the character.
Anna Kendrick executive produced this series — what was the collaboration process like? Did she have any say in Darby’s storyline?
Absolutely. The way that I like to work, in general, is extremely collaborative. I think, especially knowing my own limitations as a male writer writing the pilot, so much of that was about bringing in other voices and people who had lived vastly different experiences from mine. And so with Anna, the first time I met her was just meeting and pleasantries and deciding to work together. But then the second time we sat down for our first creative meeting, we immediately dove into the character and dove into the episode ideas and she had so many anecdotes and emotions and details that she brought from her own life that we remixed and wove into the tapestry of the show the same way everyone in the writer’s room brought their own experiences to the table.
She was very instrumental in fleshing out the character and developing Darby and building her out. Anna’s an incredible actor, but she’s also an incredibly smart person. Her instincts are always right. And so being able to have her as a collaborator, the whole way through, was huge, and I think a big part of why I’m so proud of the show.
The show is an anthology which means Season 2 would focus on a new character. What could that look like in the future? Would you consider a male lead or a change in setting?
It’s funny because when I had the idea for this show, as much as it was about looking at a different relationship in every episode, it also was this ability to reset from season to season. If we are lucky enough to do multiple seasons, let alone a second one, everything would be on the table. I think it would never … I think the idea is with this first season, we were telling the story of someone in their twenties.
Every season would be different from the next and with the help of writers’ rooms from season to season comprised of writers who had lived different experiences. We would be able to have characters with different genders and ethnicities and sexual orientations. And we would have this vessel for which we could explore as many different ways to be a person and ways to try to love someone as possible.
Love Life, Streaming now, HBO Max