Tuesday, June 26, 2018

REVIEW: 'Love Is ___' - Yasir and Nuri Struggle to Communicate and Get to Their Next Date in 'First Date'

OWN's Love Is ___ - Episode 1.02 "First Date"

Yasir and Nuri confess their love, and Yasir makes an important decision. Later, Nuri is determined to meet Yasir at a concert even if it means jeopardizing her status at work.

Love Is does the right thing in addressing just how crazy it is for Yasir and Nuri to just be going around professing their love in every single one of their interactions. That night together was completely magical and life-changing for both of them. They both have such willingness to just say those words. They figure it should be more difficult than that. And yet, they feel lucky because they have somehow found the right person and both know it right away. Yes, it is ridiculous. Angela is trying to get Nuri to come to her senses. She shouldn't risk so much of her career just in order to continue exploring this dynamic with Yasir. They had one perfect date. That doesn't make a loving or lasting relationship. Of course, the audience is being hit with all of these reasons why Yasir and Nuri should feel silly right now for investing so much in their love while also being told from the future that they are absolutely right to do so because they have been together for thirty years. As such, that does take some of the mystery and drama out of the situation. In fact, the sequences from the future where the wiser versions of the characters mostly just serve as expositional devices to help the audience get into the heads of the various characters. Yasir and Nuri are talking about how lost and unsure they were in the days leading up to this concert following their perfect first date. They wanted to continue being together and building a life with each other. But the world seemed hellbent on pulling them apart. It was so difficult to connect because everything was going wrong. It forced them to doubt. But all of that is specifically told to the audience through the future versions of the characters. As such, it removes the audience from the story a little bit because we know that these low points won't be where the characters are stuck for too long. That means it's important for them to get that victory at the end of the hour.

It's also just rewarding that the show is being upfront and frank about the religion and practices of these characters. Yasir is Muslim and he is actually shown praying and washing his body. In fact, it's rather beautiful to watch even though he's in a parking lot just bathing with a jug of water he was able to buy. He prays right there next to his car which is where he is going to sleep that night. He is eager to get his message from Nuri on his pager which has just been shut off. He wants to hear her call on this pay phone. But he doesn't ultimately hear it when he is in the middle of washing himself. That's tragic and shows that the two of them may struggle reconnecting as this story moves forward. Just because they had that one perfect moment right away doesn't mean this relationship is going to be easy. At first, it seems that way because they both have each other's numbers. In fact, it's sweet that Yasir is telling Nuri to hang up the phone after it's clear that she's too tired to know what she is actually saying. They have that connection. But that connection is taken away from them. Yasir's pager is turned off, Ruby doesn't want Nuri calling her phone anymore and Will doesn't let Nuri know when she has messages waiting for her. All of these are obstacles that the couple must overcome. And yet, Yasir is relying on his faith in order to have hope that everything will work out in the end. This is the month of Ramadan as well. He is fasting throughout the day in order to show his devotion and introspection on his actions. He's trying to do the right thing while also continuing to chase his dreams. And in the end, he is rewarded by being able to reconnect with Nuri.

Of course, all of this also comes with Ruby officially kicking Yasir out of her apartment and life. She wants them to be friends even though she's upset with him for falling in love with another woman. It seems as if she is trying to tease him into having sex so that he comes to his senses and knows what's best for him. She sees this relationship as something that is worth saving and cherishing. But she is also founding herself with indifferent feelings towards Yasir. She should be either happy or angry with him based on his recent actions. Her feeling nothing is all the proof necessary that this isn't a relationship that can go any further than it has gone. It's better for both of them to move on. And yet, Ruby wants to use Yasir as a friend in order to get a new career opportunity for herself. She wants to make a good impression on someone opening a yoga studio who also happens to have a crush on Yasir. She essentially wants to pimp out her ex-boyfriend who is still living with her. However, he will only commit to drinks with her. This big meeting is also scheduled to happen during the concert he wants to attend with Nuri. So much is ultimately riding on this concert and whether or not both of them will show up to continue this relationship. He doesn't want to screw it up. And yet, that mentality also leads him to living out of his car and just being fortunate that Sean happens to be buying groceries from the same store later that night. Yasir now has a place to go but it's not a permanent living situation either. As such, it seems inevitable that Yasir and Nuri will also take the next big step in their relationship much too quickly. That may just be how they do things.

Meanwhile, Nuri is able to talk about just how much she loves working. That has always been her greatest love up to this point in her life. She was the do-gooder in class always asking for extra assignments. She puts so much emphasis on the tapings of her sitcom now. That's where she most comes alive in her life. She is so excited to watch this show come together. She is a part of the writing staff but she loves being on the set working on the jokes and interacting with the actors. And now, the line she takes from Yasir to provide a punchline for the reveal that Marvin has gone to prison leads to her being noticed. Of course, that has the potential to be a double edged sword as well. Nuri has been noticed and appreciated. But now, she will have to continue being noticed and appreciated. She takes credit for Yasir's joke. And now, her own talents will determine her worth on this sitcom. She certainly has the skills to be an effective member of the staff. She has such a passion for writing and being in this environment. Angela couldn't care less. She doesn't see this as a shining example of the kinds of stories people of color should be telling. It's just ridiculous and farcical with the writers just making it okay for laughter to occur in these situations. Of course, she only confesses those doubts with Nuri because she sees this as the opportunity that will lead to bigger and better things in her career. She is really focused on that. Nuri doesn't see things as quite that bad. In fact, she gets swept up in the appeal of the Hollywood lifestyle with her enjoying the night out at a fancy restaurant with the star of the show. That's a dream of hers that has finally become a reality. She sees this as her finally making it in this cutthroat industry. She has achieved her dream and she continues to excel at what she does best.

And yet, Nuri is incredibly distracted. There is so much pressure at work right now because they need to do a quick turnaround and produce another episode so that the star can go off and host an awards show. It means that the sitcom is successful enough for new opportunities like that to arise. But it also means needing to work for 24 hours straight to deliver a final product. Nuri and Angela are teamed up to write a handful of scenes and Nuri is too distracted to do anything productive. Angela doesn't understand how her best friend could be this madly in love with someone after one date. It's her simply playing into the narrative that women of color can be loved and will find the man of their dreams in an instant. It should be much harder work than that. But for Nuri and Yasir, it has been easy. They are both so desperate for this night at the concert to work. Both of them have other obligations that they should do for their friends or work. And yet, they both actively make the decisions to abandon those plans to see each other again. It's the moment where their relationship could have completely died. Nuri is so desperate not to have her heart broken by this guy who is already in love with her. He feels the exact same way. It's crazy and miraculous. She sneaks out of this taping in order to go to the concert. She escapes from her greatest love in order to find love elsewhere. That's a calculated risk she is willing to take. Angela is telling her all of the reasons why she shouldn't do it. A guy is not worth jeopardizing her career over. But Nuri believes that if she doesn't go then she will never see Yasir again. That too is something that she simply can't jeopardize at the moment. And so, it plays as a very sweet ending when Yasir and Nuri both show up to enjoy this concert together. So much pressure was on this night to succeed. And now, it seems like it does based solely on the reactions the two of them have to seeing each other in person again.

Some more thoughts:
  • "First Date" was written by Mara Brock Akil and directed by Robert Townsend.
  • Over the past year in the entertainment industry, inappropriate behavior has been called out in the behind-the-scenes practices of television and film. People have been fired from their jobs for their abusive behavior on set. That behavior was creating unsafe working environments where people didn't feel like they could create their best work. As such, it's fascinating to see Norman here as an overall okay boss for Nuri. But it's still abusive and degrading when he uses the phrase "let's gang bang this bitch" in reference to starting and finishing a script in a day.
  • Even though Nuri is now completely in love with Yasir, the other guys she was seeing are still a part of her life. In fact, they keep popping up because they too have close connections to her work. Keith is an executive at the network while Will is one of the assistants on set. She feels the need to reject both of them here. And yet, it's also clear that they are still going to be pursuing her this season.
  • Sean has a tendency to make a big deal about everything. As such, context is always key to understanding what's going on with him. Yasir believes the only option for him is to be sleeping in his car because Sean's couch is no longer available. And then, Sean just appears with the solution because it's no big deal that he and his girlfriend got into a fight. However, Yasir can't be staying with them indefinitely - especially if the girlfriend never appears onscreen.
  • It's ultimately not a big deal that Nuri sneaks out of the taping. Angela is able to cover for her and the episode goes as smoothly as it possibly could. Of course, it's also amusing to see Nuri and Angela badly sell this fake story about Nuri going back to work in her office. No one could really buy the bad acting they were delivering. And yet, they believe it to be a necessary distraction to create a valid lie to explain where Nuri has disappeared to.
  • Vanessa Bell Calloway joins Clarke Peters and Wendy Davis on the couch in the future to discuss the past and the relationship between Nuri and Yasir. It's important to get the perspective from their friends and family as well. It's easy for them to be suspicious and believing this kind of connection is crazy. But the wiser Angela shows up mostly to outline the pager system the two of them used back in the '90s.