Tuesday, June 19, 2018

REVIEW: 'Love Is ___' - Nuri and Yasir Experience a Date That Forever Changes Their Lives in 'Nuri and Yasir'

OWN's Love Is ___ - Episode 1.01 "Nuri and Yasir"

Nuri and Yasir celebrate their 30th anniversary, where they take us back to the time they first met when Nuri's career was on the rise and Yasir was professionally and personally struggling.

It's absolutely crazy to think that two people are willing to confess their love together after simply spending a few hours just talking. And yet, that's the story that Love Is is asking the audience to buy into with this premiere. The structure helps in that regard because it's all told through the framing device of Nuri and Yasir 30 years in the future reflecting back on their relationship. Of course, it's also easy to wonder just how necessary and important that framing device will be over the course of the series. It seems like a waste to cast Clarke Peters and Wendy Davis as the wiser versions of Nuri and Yasir if all they have to do is these brief addresses to the camera that vaguely set up some of the grand ideas of what will play out in the 1997 story. A show simply doesn't cast actors of that caliber just to have them sit around doing that. Of course, it's easy to see the chemistry in that dynamic as well. It informs the audience right away that this is going to be a loving and passionate couple for many years. It's easy to buy into the simple way that the two of them fall in love together because it is meant to be. The audience may criticize their professions of love after one semi-date. But it's then coupled with images of the two of them still in love 30 years later. That proves the power of this concept and simply chasing one's dreams in life. Nuri and Yasir know in this moment that this is a relationship that pales in comparison to everything else they have ever experienced in their lives. It's a relationship worth investing in. They are going to be rewarded for doing so. Because the show is seen as a romantic drama, it runs the risk of running out of steam since the audience already knows that they will succeed. As such, there will need to be dramatic obstacles along the way to make this story captivating to watch. Right now, it's important to see both of them chasing their Hollywood dreams. That's a core aspect of this drama as well. They have tried putting their personal lives to the side in order to become the next great writer and director. Again, the future tells us that they will succeed. But the struggle has to be compelling as well. It can't always be as simple as their falling in love.

Of course, one can also say that Nuri and Yasir don't fall in love right away. It's not love at first sight. The story actually begins in 1996 when Yasir is simply taken to a coffee shop by his best friend Sean to meet this girl who seems perfect but whom he has never talked to before. Yasir gets up the confidence to actually go up to her and learn her name and her dreams. But it's not a connection that builds from there. A year goes by without the two of them ever seeing each other again. A lot changes in that year as well. Nuri becomes a staff writer for a multi-camera sitcom called Marvin. She is working for a boss who doesn't entirely love her ideas because she appears to be a critic more than a writer. Yasir is actually in a relationship with Ruby who is basically giving him an ultimatum in his need to get a job to pay for the rent. And Sean has a baby. Sure, he has a complicated relationship with the child's mother. But he is caring and supportive of the baby even when Nuri is making jokes at work about black men never being seen caring for their children. These are all significant changes. It means they are all in wildly different places in their lives after their first interactions. Yasir got Nuri's name. She made an impression on him. But he didn't continue exploring that connection. Both Nuri and Sean kept going to the same coffee shop. Yasir never returned. All it takes is a chance meeting on the street for Yasir to build up the confidence again to talk with Nuri and even give her his number. It again has the feeling of fate pulling them together right when they need it the most.

But it's also important to highlight the individual journeys of these characters. Nuri is currently dating several men. She is keeping her options open because she doesn't want to be bogged down with the need to start a family and risk the damage that would do to her career. Things are finally starting to go her way as a writer. She is finally getting paid to write. She wants to keep pursuing that. If she ever settled down and had a kid, she would have to cut back her focus because that child would need an attentive parent willing to care for him or her. She understands that. But more importantly, she just doesn't see anyone as being the right person to build a life with. Sure, she has a boyfriend in New York who is capable of producing a magical weekend together. But that's all that their relationship actually is. Meanwhile, there's another executive on the show who would love to take her on ski trips and expand her world. He's the kind of guy she could get serious with one day. She just doesn't see him as ready right now. And then, there is the assistant whom her mother walks in on the two of them sleeping together in bed one day. That moments proves that she's not really serious about him in either a personal or sexual way. It's just her keeping her options open. All of this essentially means that she isn't trying to welcome Yasir into her life. He is persistent and adamant that she take this ticket to a sold-out jazz concert. It's a gift that she doesn't feel she can accept though. She doesn't think she can handle another guy especially one that seems as confident and perfect as he currently appears to be. She wants to close herself off to that possibility. And yet, wiser Nuri points out that Yasir was the man who helped her see herself for who she truly was and was meant to be. As such, that builds the inevitability of this spark actually igniting in this relationship.

Of course, Nuri also sees Yasir as having his life together because he is so smooth and confident asking her out to this concert even though he's basically wearing his underwear. She sees it as him having found success in the past year as well. In actuality, he is just wandering the streets in all the clothes that he was wearing because he was forced out of the house by Ruby to look for a job. He's not putting any effort into that search though. He's just hanging out with Sean and doesn't really care that he's only in his underwear. But all of this does highlight his desperation to make it in Hollywood. He aspires to be a director. He can see the vision he has for his career so clearly. And yet, no one else seems to be taking him seriously. He wants to celebrate that he has finished a script he has been working on for so long. He sees that as a stunning achievement because he finally cracked the mystery of how to end the story. He wants to get it produced and seen by the rest of the world. He wants that for his life. And now, his mother appears to be the only one actually supporting his dream. He needs that pep talk from her in order to keep moving forward even though she wants to boast that she was right when it came to Ruby. Ruby doesn't understand how Yasir could go out and buy these tickets when they need to be paying their rent. They don't have money to spend like that. And in the end, it turns out that Ruby is going to hold true to her promise to kick Yasir out of her life. He would much rather go out on this date with Nuri instead of look for work. He comes home so confident after making this new connection. Ruby is right to want him gone believing that she knows Yasir better than any new woman possibly could. But it also seems like one big problem that will simply go away over time and getting to understand how to adjust to this new reality.

As such, a lot is riding on this big meeting between Nuri and Yasir that will change the course of their lives forever. It is a really delicate and intricate scene as well. It's essentially Nuri trying to hand this ticket back to Yasir in person while rejecting him and Yasir just flat out refusing to do so. As such, it simply sparks conversation between them. Nuri tries to explain why she can't accept a gift like this because of her own father issues and needing to make her own way in this world. Yasir makes a joke about how that kind of in-depth analysis is rather personal to include in a moment of pure rejection. It's a fun but intense encounter. It is able to morph seamlessly from one where there is no meaningful connection to one where the two are willing to profess their love. The entire series hinges around this one scene. That means the show has to be very careful with which moments to include and which to not. Nuri is still on a writing deadline after all. She would like to go home and finish her work. Of course, that may also just be an excuse she gives upfront in order to make her break away from Yasir. And yet, she continually chooses to stay because she is enjoying his company. They talk about a variety of subjects. They talk about their career aspirations with Nuri even offering to read some of Yasir's scripts and send them on to her agent. If nothing else, this connection could be good for their careers because it's helping them out when they need it the most. Yasir gets a connection that could help him land a job. Nuri probably gets a joke that is actually putting funny for the situation about a convict looking for a job on the sitcom. It's very charming and electric. It gets so personal that they are willing to share their deepest and darkest personal secrets. They have both had run-ins with their celebrity idols. But they've also both been affected by parents going to jail and being absent from their lives. They stay in this moment just talking for hours. It gets to the point where it's four in the morning and they are asked to leave just so the place can close for the night. Even then, Yasir tries to wrap it all up with a big declaration of love that says they have already known each other for a year and should be comfortable saying what they want to say in this moment. It's a very swoon-worthy kiss as well that is romantic while also being charming and amusing. It's a nice way to guide the audience into the tone of the show and onto the journey of Yasir and Nuri as a couple. It's a very compelling start that should create a very interesting television show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Nuri and Yasir" was written by Mara Brock Akil and directed by Mara Brock Akil.
  • The segments set in the future initially state that it is Yasir and Nuri's 30th anniversary. That originally gives the impression that they have been married for 30 years and they are looking back at the beginning of the story for this filmed special. Instead, it appears to be 30 or 31 years since they met. That's the personal significance of this story and why it is important to reflect back on this meeting and how their lives changed because of it.
  • The worlds of Yasir and Nuri are going to have to be fleshed out more in the future. Right now, it's all about their relationship. That is the central focus of the show. That will always be the case. But it's also vital to see their friendships and their career opportunities. As such, the show will have to be willing to depict those worlds as honestly as it can to show the real setbacks and achievements the two of them had.
  • Nuri actually works with her best friend though. Angela is another writer on Marvin. She's someone Nuri can confide in completely even though she doesn't have her back when trying to make a point with the showrunner about why a joke about a black man being a convicted felon forever alters the perception of the character. But it's also just nice seeing Angela knock some sense into Nuri when it comes to Yasir and needing to take him seriously.
  • It's also fascinating to see Nuri and Yasir just be so open and honest about their religion and beliefs in this date as well. Nuri says that she was raised in the Nation of Islam but has since experienced so many different religions because of her mother and her willingness to explore the world. Meanwhile, Yasir is a Muslim who even changed his name for the personal significance of what it could then reflect through his life. They are both spiritual but it's never completely defining of themselves either.
  • Will Catlett and Michele Weaver are just fantastic leads here. The casting department did a stellar job in tapping them for these roles. The Akils must have been really impressed with Catlett during his time on Black Lightning earlier this year. But the chemistry of the two of them is so key to the series. If the audience doesn't buy into their instant spark, then the whole show falls apart. But the chemistry is already insane and so electric.