In the new Judd Apatow-produced Netflix series Love, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is cool — if sort of fucked up — and Gus (Paul Rust) is nerdy. At least that’s how we’re supposed to see them. Gus cluelessly tries to play along when she hotboxes a car. When Mickey invites him to a party, he shows up ridiculously early and hides in the bathroom to call his friends, remarking that everybody there looks like the “grown-up version of that movie Kids.” We know right off the bat that Mickey and Gus’s lives are messy in different ways. Gus is nice — or thinks he's nice — almost to a fault. Mickey jumps to conclusions and makes rash decisions that don’t necessarily seem healthy. At first, Mickey's attitude is impossibly enticing, sparking envy in an I-could-never-get-away-with-that way. But Mickey is not just a cool girl without a care in the world. Her enviable allure hides something crucial: She’s an addict. Love is not the only recent show to portray a "cool girl" as so much more than that — as a character with serious issues. Of course, “cool” is relative, and by “cool girl,” I don’t exactly mean Gillian Flynn’s burger-chomping, beer-swilling fantasy “cool girl” as defined in Gone Girl. I do mean a fearless, unfettered character who lives largely by her own rules, whose style and boldness can be awe-inspiring. Think Rayanne Graff, the free spirit who entrances Angela Chase in My So-Called Life. If you'll recall, Rayanne has her own substance abuse narrative.
Jessa (Jemima Kirke) on Girls has a similar arc. When she is first introduced, it’s easy to see why certain characters like Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) are attracted to her. Marnie (Allison Williams) seems to see through Jessa’s bullshit, but by doing so, Marnie comes off as uptight. Jessa is still the cool one. As the series goes on, though, the audience learns that Jessa dropped out of college to go to rehab for heroin addiction. She’s back in a treatment facility at the beginning of the third season, and her recovery has become a huge part of her story line. Another recent example: Gretchen (Aya Cash) on You’re the Worst. The Gretchen introduced in the first season is a hard-drinking, leather-rocking, PR badass. She is not without her flaws: She has a messy apartment that catches on fire and she's reluctant to commit to a relationship. But in the second season, after she starts living with her boyfriend, Jimmy (Chris Geere), she suffers a bout of clinical depression. “Relationships aren’t isolated in a bubble,” the show’s creator Stephen Falk told Refinery29 last year. “We bring a lifetime of experiences, of damage, of illness, of psychology into it, and forces that have nothing to do with the other person affect it constantly.”
Like You’re the Worst, Love also delves into the question of how people grapple with their own issues while falling for another person. Gus is arrogant about his good-guy status. Mickey is trying to figure out how to be in love and maintain her substance addictions. But Love is not about an alcoholic or a sex addict falling in love. Rather than harping on Mickey's struggles, the show reveals them slowly. “We didn't want Mickey’s addictions to take over story-wise,” Love co-creator Lesley Arfin told Refinery29 via email. “It's just a part of her character. It doesn't define her entirely.” Arfin explained that she wanted to subvert expectations of what an addict looks like. “Jesse Pinkman is one version of an addict. Betty Ford is another,” she wrote. “There isn't a ‘type’ of person who is immune to addiction. Why would we limit ourselves? Why cheat a viewer from having a different experience? Clichés and stereotypes might be easier for some people to swallow, but really I just think it's lazy writing.” Arfin told us that she thinks the show has “just scratched the surface” of Mickey’s addiction in its first season. "Mickey lies in AA meetings. Why would someone do that? I mean, I have an idea, but I don't think Mickey does," Arfin said. "We might not ever hear firsthand Mickey's path to self awareness. Hopefully it's something we will see as she evolves as a person. But who knows? Maybe she won't evolve? Maybe that's not her path?" In the finale of Love — spoiler alert — Mickey finally comes clean to Gus. “I’m an addict,” she tells him. “I’m a drug addict and I’m an alcoholic and I’m a sex and love addict and I think I just need to be by myself for maybe, like, a year.” He kisses her anyway, but it feels like a Pyrrhic victory. Sure, these are the people who are supposed to be together — it is a romantic sitcom — but his decision to ignore her request could be detrimental to them both. It would be inaccurate to reduce Mickey and all of these other characters to a mere trope. These shows are introducing us to women who are more than the sum of their problems, all while pulling them down from an unfair pedestal of coolness. ("Being cool is bullshit, and falling for that lie is something both Mickey and Gus have in common," Arfin told us.) By the end of the series, we can actually relate to the cool girl instead of wishing we were more like her. And that's refreshing.