AS THE shelves fill up with teddy bears (fire hazards, if you ask us) and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate (at least they’re practical!), it seems that everyone has one thing on their mind: the l-word. Including television executives. One Day  an adaptation of David Nicholls’s phenomenally popular novel—drops on Netflix today. All 14 parts of it! Last week, Mr. and Mrs. Smith—a romcom with explosions starring Donald Glover – debuted on Amazon after years of delays. And on V-Day itself, Channel 4 debuts a will-they-won’t-they drama, Alice & Jack, which looks a little like every quirky film you watched in 2007. You know how it goes: roses are red and violets are blue, television has some romantic scheduling for you.

What gives? Why is there such an appetite about hot people falling in love? Is everyone really just that lonely in February? (Don’t answer that one.) Perhaps it’s because there’s not much going on at the movies if you’re looking for love and laughs. Recent romcoms have veered from average to terrible. Not even Julia Roberts and George Clooney could save Ticket to ParadiseRed, White and Royal Blue? Totally fine, but never, not even for one second, more than that. That Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell-led Anyone but You, a remake of Much Ado about Nothing set in Australia, is a box office success is a little heartbreaking: expectations are so low that this soulless affair, the kind of film you ignore for months and then watch on someone else’s screen on a long-haul flight, can soar.

But in recent few years, we have been spoiled for romance on television. Love Life, an HBO anthology series which followed characters from their first to last love, was an astute reimagining of a familiar narrative. There was the imaginatively sly Starstruck, the short-lived High Fidelity (like One Day, a TV remake of a film adaptation of a wildly popular British book), and the surprisingly sweet Colin from Accounts. Go back a little further, and you’ll find the You’re the WorstInsecure and Lovesick.

Amazon Prime

The cause of the great romantic migration to television? One Day provides an answer. Nicholls’ book about a pair of star-crossed Edinburgh university students was published in 2009 and adapted into a film two years later starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. That version was promptly panned. This TV adaptation, starring Ambika Mod (This Is Going To Hurt) and Leo Woodall (The White Lotus), unspools the romance over seven hours. Critics swooned. At least some of that critical success is down to television’s episodic format. As Nicholls told Esquire before the show’s release: “The form is the big difference. This structure didn’t exist when the book came out. In the film, the chapters, the days, become story beats that are part of a larger arc: links in the chain. In a series, each chapter, each day is a story in itself, with a beginning, middle and an end. [It often has] its own style and tone; a solo piece, a romantic comedy, a darker drama, a farce. Which is a terrific freedom for the screenwriters.”

Nicholls has writing credits on 12 episodes, so he would know. On television, you can experiment in a way which currently seems impossible at the pictures. The best part about Netflix’s One Day is its untraditional pacing: the show is happy to spend an entire episode on a single fight or when the male protagonist, Dexter (played by Leo Woodall), is having an existential crisis. (The tone changes throughout also explain confusion about categorising the show: the Guardian calls it a “romcom”, the Financial Times a “romantic drama”. That both labels are correct highlights how nebulous this genre has become.) Such experimentation is most obvious in Mr. and Mrs. Smith—co-created by Glover and his Atlanta collaborator Francesca Sloane—which hits upon an ingenious structure: each mission for the spies aligns with a dating milestone. There are risks in these shows which feel like minor miracles for the genre, allowing for actual jokes, unexpected breakthroughs and characters that you might even remember after the credits roll.

How long will this small-screen romcom renaissance last? Probably until they start making interesting films again, but the real problem over there is that no one has found another Julia Roberts. For now, let us settle into the gentle groove of television and treat these shows like an unexpected Valentine’s Day card: a little corny sure, but intriguing nonetheless.

You can watch ‘One Day’ on Netflix and ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ on Amazon

This story originally appeared on Esquire UK.


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