Along with half of the country, I took ill in early November with a particularly virulent case of despondence and malaise. For this ailment, well-tried cure-alls proved to be of little use. Sleeping—the deep, catatonic, blot-out-the-world kind—helped a little, if one could manage it. Chicken soup proved to be far less effective than pizza. Even the notorious sick-day treat of lying on the couch and watching television all day didn’t help.
We are still figuring out how best to live with this chronic illness, but in the meantime, I have discovered a temporary symptom alleviator that works for about an hour or two at a time: charming, nontragic romances. One such soother is Netflix’s Lovesick, formerly known as Scrotal Recall. Despite its previous name’s suggestion that it is a futuristic adventure series somehow involving Arnold Schwarzenegger’s junk and its current name’s suggestion that it is boring, Lovesick is a charming and low-key British romantic comedy about a pair of smitten roommates who keep getting into serious relationships with other people.
At the start of the show, Dylan (Johnny Flynn), a sweet and large-hearted young man with an inexcusable hairstyle—call it the teased Bieber—discovers that he has a venereal disease. Being an upstanding and gentle soul, he decides to personally inform all of the women he has slept with, which he does so with all the adorable bumbling of Hugh Grant and none of the smarm. Each episode is named after one of Dylan’s romantic partners and takes place both in the past, when he first met her, and in the present, when they reconnect. But as Dylan meets with various women, aided by his endearingly shallow pal Luke (Daniel Ings)—charming, but in the smarmy way—it becomes clear he’s destined for his lovely roommate Evie (Antonia Thomas), who longs for Dylan but is also desperately trying to get over Dylan. The show is a series of short, funny, ill-fated romances between Dylan and various exes, embedded within a longer, more heartfelt romance between him and Evie, as the show keeps contriving to keep them apart.
I will here confess to a habit unbecoming of a TV critic, or any person generally interested in the structural integrity of a television show. I sometimes get so caught up in a romantic storyline that I skip all the other parts of the show, with a promise that I will return and watch them once I know what happens with the love story. This is only possible in a binge-watching situation and is the equivalent of scooping all the cookie dough out of the cookie-dough ice cream and then putting the carton back in the freezer like I’m going to return for the hollowed-out vanilla (which has happened, albeit only in desperate times). But when the love story does not go in the direction I would have hoped—consummation, generally speaking—I lose interest and renege on my promise. This is all to say that I watched the first six-episode season of Lovesick in a kind of blissed-out jag—finally, something that didn’t make me feel awful! I couldn’t wait for Season 2, but then skipped huge chunks of it to see how things turn out for Dylan and Evie, only to learn that Netflix definitely wants a Season 3 of Lovesick and so is dragging that consummation out. Based on what I did see of Season 2, I am certain that a more patient person, one more in need of distraction or one less enslaved to ’shipping, would find it as satisfactory as the first.
Having wrung what comfort I could out of Lovesick, I then turned to TNT’s Good Behavior, which I had no idea would turn out to be a charming romance. Good Behavior stars Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery as Letty Raines, an alcoholic, drug-addicted thief just out of jail, trying to get her life together in order to regain custody of her son. While robbing a hotel room, Letty overhears a hit man, Javier (Juan Diego Botto), discussing a job. She proceeds to con and seduce him in an attempt to rescue the woman he has been paid to kill. It doesn’t work out exactly as she planned, and she winds up in a motel trying to commit suicide by drug overdose when Javier busts in and forces her to work with him on his next job.
The setup is bleak, but the show is not. Yes, it involves drugs, murder, and intense emotional pain, but there’s something almost screwball about it: Letty and Javier are just two crazy kids who are weirdly perfect for each other. Letty really doesn’t want to kill people, and her insistence that Javier could and should be doing something else is something he needs to hear. Meanwhile, Javier is a teetotaling mercenary, and as such is a clean influence on Letty, who always ends up with other drug abusers. They both have higher standards for each other than they have for themselves and are so desperately lonely they can’t quite believe they’ve found such unexpectedly satisfying, honest company.
It is perhaps a little gauche that Good Behavior is basically a really fun show about people who rob and murder other people for a living, but it is. And it’s fun even though Letty’s traumatic past and deep wounds are played straight—all her very real angst makes it all the more understandable why she would need someone like Javier, a standup murderer, in her life. (Also, did I mention that Juan Diego Botto is so handsome that he flays the very logic of the show? No one that cute has to be a hit man. He just becomes an actor.) The show is cagey about taking on dark topics without becoming grim: It has a lightness of touch. In the second episode, for example, the two pose as a married couple, which is a TV cliché that is a cliché for a reason: If the two people involved have good chemistry, it’s a thrill to watch. At the end of the third episode, Javier lets Letty go, which reformulates the structure of the show in a wonderful way. As the two continue to hang around and banter, it’s not a matter of force or manipulation; it’s simply because they like each other. They’re just trying to take their happiness where they can get it—not bad advice.