John Carney teases a more expansive second season of Modern Love
After a year that challenged our relationships and found many people confronting unprecedented loneliness, the one thing we could all use a little bit more of is love.
Luckily Modern Love, Amazon's anthology series based on the popular New York Times column of the same name, is coming back for more. The second season premieres Aug. 13, and EW has an exclusive first look at the ensemble cast and episode breakdowns.
Drawn from an entirely new set of Modern Love columns, season 2 expands from the first season, taking its proceedings outside New York City for the first time and offering another roster of all-star talent, including Tobias Menzies, Sophie Okonedo, Minnie Driver, Kit Harington, Lucy Boynton, and Andrew Rannells (who directs an episode based on an essay he wrote.)
We called up series creator John Carney to talk about his approach to season 2, what they wanted to do differently this go-round, how he managed to recruit such a flashy roster of talent, and why they wanted to include a COVID-inspired love story. Check out his insights, along with episode loglines and first-look photos, below.
Zoë Chao & Gbenga Akinnagbe: A woman with delayed sleep phase syndrome meets the love of her life. The catch is: He's awake while the sun is shining and she is not.
Marquis Rodriguez & Zane Pais: For two young men, running into each other reminds them of their first and only date together. But do they remember that night the same way?
Grace Edwards & Lulu Wilson: A middle school girl questions her sexuality when she finds herself having feelings for another girl. She turns to social media quizzes for answers.
Dominique Fishback & Isaac Powell: The new girl in school falls in love with her best friend and is convinced that they're meant for each other… even though she can't seem to ever get out of the "friend zone."
Anna Paquin & Garrett Hedlund: After a chance meeting in a therapist's office, a former marine and a housewife develop an unlikely connection when they discover their respective spouses are having an affair with each other.
Lucy Boynton & Kit Harington: Two strangers meet on a train from Galway to Dublin in March 2020 and decide to go old-school: no numbers exchanged, only a promise that they will meet up on the train two weeks later. And then a worldwide pandemic shuts down all of Ireland.
Minnie Driver & Tom Burke: A woman's only remaining connection to her late husband is her vintage car, but now 30 years later, she's confronted with the difficult choice of selling it — and saying goodbye to her old love forever.
Sophie Okonedo & Tobias Menzies: Two parents, after being divorced for several years, begin a casual fling and reignite their old flame, only for one of them to receive a life-changing medical diagnosis.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you select which columns to go off this time? Did you follow similar parameters to the first season, or did you have slightly different goals or an approach in mind?
JOHN CARNEY: It's so different doing a second season. Because you have so much more information going into it. You go into the first season blind because you're doing something new, and you're experimenting and trying out various different things and learning. Then you're getting so much feedback so quickly once the show comes out. It's very interesting to go into a second season, and say, "What can we do better? What can we listen to? What can we persevere with from the first season that we didn't get right or get a little bit closer to how we wanted it?" With all that in mind, we went by a similar process that we went through for season 1 in terms of selecting, which is find the essays that spoke to us personally. If each story meant something to the specific writer or director involved, then that love of the original essay would carry it through.
And then the second thing was, I got to do a little bit of: What worked in the first season? What kind of love stories didn't we include? Can we make the show a little bit less about the city of New York? Could it be a show that actually could be filmed anywhere? With that in mind, we filmed a couple of episodes in Dublin, and one in London, and the rest in New York, but we felt like we would dip our toes in that a little bit. This is a show that that's not a fait accompli. Nobody ever sat down and designed the show from scratch. The column is based on real people. And we then are adapting those real stories to the screen. So it's a really collaborative process. They're not yarns that we're making up in a writers' room from scratch, they come from a human being or two human beings. And that connection dramatically changes the construct and the idea behind this show. So we would be crazy not to listen to what people like about the column [and] what doesn't work as well in adapting it to the screen.
We definitely looked for stories that were outside Manhattan, that were outside of a certain milieu or a certain class system, or financial bracket or any of that, and tried to be more inclusive of different types of people, different types of love, people in different worlds.
You have another all-star cast. Do you write with the actors in mind, or do they get attached after?
No, because it's too disappointing then when they turn you down. It always feels like you're getting second best if you don't get that dream person. Obviously you have voices in your head of how people should sound. You hear actors or intonations that you recognize from other shows or movies. But it would be a mistake to imagine it too much, and so I leave it very open. Then it's always a win-win when you get whoever you get because they bring so much to it and you have no preconceptions of how it should be.
How did you repeat the magic of season 1 and end up with another stellar lineup here?
We were lucky. It's funny, we didn't get many rejections. We got most of the first people that we asked, which was great. But the show is building up an idea of what it could be. It's not a huge amount of commitments from actors; it's a couple of weeks and they get to dip into a character. It's almost like making a short film in a way. That's probably appealing to actors. The column has such a sort of good reputation, and people really love the column. So that always helps as well, but season 1 did very well. We were able to say, "Have a look at this episode because this is going to be similar." That was very helpful, to be able to steer actors in terms of the tone or the kind of stories we were going to tell.
Were there any actors who got away this time?
A few people, but we'll get them the next time. What's nice about this is that the feedback we get from people when they reject us is, "Oh, can you send me another one?" It's not like, "No I'm not doing this show." It's like, "This one just didn't thing sing out to me. Will you please keep me in mind for something else?" It's the right person for the right job.
Andrew Rannells is also directing this season, from an episode based on an essay he wrote. Can you tell us a bit more about how you arrived at that and bringing Andrew in to oversee?
I loved him as an actor, and I've been an avid fan of his for a long time. We learned that he wanted to direct. When we spoke to him on the phone it was very clear that he knew how to tell the story better than anybody — given that it happened to him. He'd spent so much time on film sets all his life. He's learned to be a really good director and very good with actors, and it seemed like a no-brainer. One thing we did say to him was, "Try directing it like it didn't happen to you." Because you wrote it like it happened to you, and as you're directing it, try and step away from that. Let the column be the memoir, but let the show be something different from that. Let's almost forget the author. And that's the way of actually doing them justice, weirdly. Because if it's too much about them, it loses its general appeal. The director has to ultimately own it. That was our opinion with Andrew, was, "Don't direct it trying to recall how this happened to you because you've done that already as a writer. Now you must direct it like somebody has given you a really interesting job."
One of your story lines specifically engages with the pandemic. When and why did you decide you wanted to include that? Was there any debate about it?
There was a tiny love story that included COVID. I just loved the picture with it. It was one line. It was basically two people meet on the train at the beginning of the pandemic, before anybody knew, like March 2020, last year. Everybody's going home but nobody knows how long they'll be home for. We all assumed it would be like a couple of weeks, and they don't exchange numbers because they're so sure that they're in love with each other. Then the lockdown happens, and they don't get to meet each other again. They arranged to meet on the train going back, and there is no going back, and they don't have numbers for each other and that was the end of the story. That set my mind ablaze with ideas. I went ahead and developed this story based on that one line. But there was no, like, "We must make one about COVID"; it was more that a COVID episode fit in.
Do you have a favorite episode this season?
I do, but I'll avoid that question right now. Overall, the whole set of episodes feels very cohesive and very continuous with the column, and with what the column is trying to say about the world. Sometimes I'm reading the New York Times and it's like I can't handle any more bad news, and "Modern Love" is often a very nice, very welcome antidote to that. I think the TV show maintains that, and we develop that even further. You can have good news without it being saccharine. We need good news, because the truth of the world is actually with all the bad terrible stuff happening all the time, there's also been a lot of peace and love. There's been a lot of harmony in the world, and we tend to forget that. It seems indulgent sometimes to say, "Can I just have some good news?" But then sometimes you're super-saturated with the bad, and need to remind yourself of humanity. And of connectivity and of real people in real situations — and not on screens, but actually together. I hope that the show goes a tiny way to replicating that.
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