‘Love,’ ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,’ and the Savior Complex

Two shows explore women who use love as a life preserver.

In the second-to-last episode of Love’s second season, which landed on Netflix a couple weekends ago, Gus (Paul Rust) is drawn to an unlikely place when his relationship with Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is called into question. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the new season.) An on-set tutor, Gus has spent a month away from his new girlfriend while his young client shoots a movie in Atlanta, and it doesn’t take long for the separation to strain their nascent relationship. The tension sends Mickey into the arms of her ex-boyfriend, but Gus finds comfort somewhere else: church.

The episode reminded me of another recent series about a relationship that appears doomed to fail. In the second season finale of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca (co-creator Rachel Bloom) finds herself stranded at the altar when her fiancé, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), decides to become a priest. Interestingly, these two series that explore how women use love as a life preserver both feature storylines in which the male lead seeks out religion, not romance, for guidance.

The fact that both men turn to God when in doubt — while the women turn to men —is a subtle reflection of the ways in which women view men as their saviors. But Love doesn’t quite follow through. While Crazy Ex-Girlfriend critiques its protagonist’s dependence on men and a culture that casts such dependence as romantic instead of troubling, Love gives into the notion that love conquers all. It’s as if the Netflix original is too enamored with its leading lady to see her for what she is — and too eager to have its leading man come to her rescue.

Mickey and Gus’s relationship is one of TV’s weaker romances; there’s nothing all that interesting about a love story between two people with nothing to lose and not much else going on. Mickey is an addict who uses sex and love the way she uses drugs and alcohol — with zero impulse control and for all the wrong reasons. Gus is a geeky nice guy who’s a little overbearing but ultimately kind. After two seasons of will-they-won’t-they drama (like, far too much drama for the first month of a relationship), they finally commit to each other at the end of Season 2.

Like a lot entertainment-industry-adjacent shows, Love is a cool show the way Mickey is a cool girl —arch and knowing, her cynicism displayed proudly on her sleeve. In Love’s version of L.A., the subway is something you take for the hallucinogenic effects when you want to try a crazy new drug with Andy Dick. Mickey and Gus meet cute at a gas station and go for a spontaneous stroll against the backdrop of funky East L.A. murals. They both have show-business jobs that they don’t even care about, man. Unlike Mickey, Gus’s last girlfriend hated fast food. Mickey’s a hot mess in more ways than one, a fuckup who rarely wears a bra and whose greatest vice is that she just can’t stop banging dudes. Her name is Mickey, for chrissake.

Look: I, too, enjoy watching Gillian Jacobs gallivant around East Los Angeles in a bathing suit and jeans. Despite my griping, I tore through the second season much as I did the first: immediately and entirely, watching all 12 episodes over the weekend following its release almost by accident. Like a relationship that feels good but is probably bad, Love goes down easy.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, on the other hand, is a tougher sell, a musical comedy set in West Covina, California — two hours from the beach, four in traffic! — and centered on a woman who is painfully uncool. This is what Rebecca looks like when she rolls off the couch to buy snacks:

This is what Mickey looks like when she does the same:

Rebecca isn’t a total slob; she cleans up nice, and let’s not forget she’s a successful lawyer who left a high-paying corporate gig in New York to pursue Josh — the kind of truly crazy move I can’t imagine Mickey making. While Mickey and Gus just kind of fall into their relationship, Rebecca hunts down Josh like a lioness stalking her prey. It’s not a great look, and it eventually backfires when Rebecca rushes to plan a wedding in just two weeks and Josh, unsurprisingly, gets cold feet and backs out.

Where Crazy Ex is all too happy to portray Rebecca as an unhinged woman who can’t stop sabotaging her life, Love has too much of a hard-on for Mickey to really do the same. Sure, she’s a screw-up, but she makes self-sabotage look so sexy — and in the end, she gets the guy. Although it’s painfully clear that Gus and Mickey are not a good match, Love keeps casting Gus as the answer to Mickey’s problems, a ballast that will keep her in check. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes a more complex view of its central romance, casting Rebecca’s dogged pursuit of a man she hasn’t seen since she was a teenager in an appropriately unflattering light. The show understands that Josh isn’t the answer to Rebecca’s problems; he’s another problem.