Modern Love takes a step further beyond its tales of romance to remind its audience that love can come in many forms. For Lilianne “Lil” Parker (Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah) she learns how to truly love herself first as she journeys through her adolescence alongside her best friend and longtime crush Vince (Isaac Powell, Dear Evan Hansen), with a somewhat unexpected end.
A frame story told during a stand up performance by Lil herself, transporting both audiences to the beginning of the story when a younger Lil (Milan Ray, Troop Zero) moves from Ohio to Brooklyn and meets a younger Vince (Pierson Salvador, NOS4A2) who could be described as her soulmate; just not in the way she initially hopes. Unfortunately for Lil, she fell victim to the typical middle school girl experience of falling in love, but in her case, she fell in love with the boy who would become her best friend, and despite their instant connection—hence, soulmates—that label didn’t seem inclined to change.
The middle school section of the story was incredibly strong, and praises must be sung for Ray and Salvador who were tasked with establishing Lil and Vince as characters, as well as their dynamic, which they did as successfully as their adult counterparts; not to mention, the casting director did a phenomenal job, especially with the double casts for Vince and Arturo (Hassan Singleton Jr., The Ave and Corwin C. Tuggles, The Backyardigans), a close friend of Lil and Vince.
The phenomenal performances by the young actors allowed the narrative to truly shine, and there was much to notice and appreciate. The characters, to begin, were incredibly strong from the beginning, and the small amount of characterization given at the comedy performance was strengthened when Lil’s story began. The dynamic and dialogue between all the students was believable enough, and Lil perfectly embodied the near universal experience of middle school love.
The time jump wasn’t jarring, focusing on Lil and the same friends introduced at the start. The episode was able to depict the growth and development of Vince and Lil as individuals and in their dynamic in a short period of time, which kept the audience focused on the events and relationship rather than the time jump itself. While a large time skip and less developed in relation to the earlier section, the high school segment managed to elicit nostalgic feelings when Vince brought their Lil to their rooftop spot, something that is only successful when the characters and their relationship are established, which is a true testament to the episode’s strength.
The college segment of the episode took some time to adjust to and understand Vince and Lil’s dynamic now that they were further apart, but when fully understood, this was crucial to the theme of the episode, as it depicts the lead-up and necessity of Lil separating herself from Vince and how that directly influenced the present day portion of the episode.
The boy Lil hooks up with at college tells her to call him when she knows what she wants. While that is a dig at her holding a candle for Vince, it also indicates why their break was so important; Vince wasn’t holding Lil back, nor was he a negative influence, but because he was important to her, she focused much of her attention on him because it was, to an extent, reciprocated, and she cared about him; regardless of her romantic intentions, they were still best friends.
When she left, it gave her an opportunity to have space in her head and her heart to discover more about herself, as she had to find something else to care about, and without his influence, she was able to find a passion that she could pour all her time and love into the same way she had with Vince.
Taking the time away from Vince to find her own passions and pursue something with only herself in mind was liberating without invalidating her past self and all she had experienced with him.
At the end of the episode, Lil tells Vince that it was good they took time apart, and while they both agree it sucked at times not to have each other around, it reinforces the message. The comedian Lil watched talked about not waiting for the fairy tale ending, but the underlying point was Lil needed the time to focus on herself and what goals she wanted to pursue separate from Vince; in every scene, she agrees to go with Vince or do the things he asks of her, but when she finally separates herself and has something placed in front of her completely separate from Vince, she’s able to love herself and realize she has always had more.
Something that made the episode distinct amongst other stories of the same ilk was that it didn’t portray Lil’s feelings for and relationship with Vince as negative, childish, or something to regret and frown upon now that she was older. She didn’t discount the years she spent caring about him and romantically pursuing him, rather she made a natural transition when they stopped being friends, and that elevates the message of independence; there was nothing wrong about Lil wanting a man, but it’s even better now that she has something she’s equally passionate and dedicated to.
The most impactful narrative choice was to have the final flashback scene before returning to present time not be Lil and Vince’s fight, but Lil’s first stand up performance and her reaction once she was finished. With her and Vince remaining friends in the end, the choice to have the end of her story be about pursuing her own passions, it emphasizes the self-love narrative that the episode was conveying.
The choice to have them reconnect and become friends was not wholly surprising, but a nice change of pace from the romantic relationships with happily ever afters, and when compared to “The Night Girl Finds a Day Boy,” wherein the couple separated and supposedly figured it all out, it was nice to see a couple that accepted that they weren’t meant to fit romantically, and instead focused on their relationship as platonic soulmates.
The episode managed to create unique characters and experiences that stand independently while still having both aspects resonate with audiences due to the near universal experiences depicted within the episode. Out of all the episodes so far, this is the one audiences can connect to the most, as it tells the story of young love, heartbreak, reconnecting with old friends, and learning how to love oneself independent of others, something all audience members either have experienced or will experience in the future regardless of the finer details.