Any show juggling multiple relationship dynamics gives itself the gift of possibility and the challenge of balancing it all at once. While it gets to tell several stories instead of relying on just one, some characters can easily fall through the cracks, or else become far less compelling when weighed against the others. Such is the case for “With Love,” a new Amazon Prime Video rom-com series from Gloria Calderón Kellett (“One Day at a Time”) that shines bright in some narratives and falls disappointingly flat in others.
Over five episodes, each unfolding over the course of a different holiday, “With Love” follows four interlocking couples as they fall in, out of, and back in love. Connecting them all are members of the Diaz family, a sprawling but tightly knit group with a lot of love, and more than a few codependent dynamics. The season details almost a full year of their lives, from an eventful Nochebuena celebration where Jorge Jr. (Mark Indelicato) introduces the family to his new bisexual boyfriend (Vincent Rodriguez III), to the Independence Day that sees his sister Lily (Emeraude Toubia) and her new boyfriend Santiago (Rome Flynn) move in together, to the Dia de los Muertos that sees everyone teetering between commitment and disaster. It’s a pleasure to see a Latino family at the center of love stories like these, and a series that gives full attention to an older couple like Lily and Jorge’s parents, Beatriz (Constance Marie) and Jorge Sr. (Benito Martinez), represents a welcome change of pace. There’s plenty of empathetic charm lying in between the lines of “With Love.” The problem is that those lines get more and more stilted, taking many of the performances with them.
When “With Love” is at its best, though, it’s usually when focusing on its two queerer couples. Javier and Lily’s cousin Sol (Isis King) is a genderqueer oncologist whose flirtation with their coworker (Todd Grinnell) quickly blossoms into the real thing. King and Grinnell have the most instant, natural romantic chemistry of anyone on the show, and watching their characters navigate a relationship that gets to be serious, loving, and unfailingly considerate makes for a welcome exception in the TV world of overwhelmingly tragic trans characters. As for Javier and Henry, they’re already serious enough by the time we meet them to be spending Christmas together; by the time we leave them, they’ve become true partners. They’re different enough from each other to be interesting, but not so far apart on values for them to feel fundamentally incompatible.
That does not, however, hold true for Lily and Santiago, who are ostensibly meant to make up the show’s most compelling will-they, won’t-they couple. The way “With Love” portrays their relationship is so strange as to become downright confusing. It takes almost three of the five episodes for them to have a meaningful conversation, and when they do, it’s a knockdown argument about how differently they see the world, popping the bubble of their sexual tension in ugly fashion. And while the general conceit of checking in on everyone during major holidays mostly works, as far as Lily and Santiago are concerned, it doesn’t help that the show quite literally fast forwards through all their happy milestones — meaning that we basically only get to see them when their relationship is on the rocks. Opposites can attract, but these opposites are so far apart that it’s genuinely hard to root for them when they inevitably get together.
Complicating matters even further is that Toubia has much more chemistry with Desmond Chiam, who plays Javier’s himbo best friend Nick. Though Lily insists she feels no romance towards Nick, watching them interact with such flirty ease versus Lily and Santiago’s prickly disdain doesn’t serve the show’s clear goal with them at all. It’s beyond frustrating that this pivotal couple just doesn’t land — but at the very least, “With Love” gives us three other ones that make it work just fine.
“With Love” premieres Friday, Dec. 17, on Amazon Prime Video.
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