Amazon's anthology series Modern Love became a critical hit upon its release in the fall of 2019 and continues to be discovered and enjoyed by new viewers, as they await its second season. Based on the popular The New York Times column of the same name, the series tells tales of love in various forms through the depiction of contemporary, and sometimes unconventional, relationships.
Each standalone episode presents a unique story full of layered characters played expertly by some of today's most accomplished actors, including Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, Academy Award nominees Dev Patel and Catherine Keener, two-time Golden Globe winner Tina Fey, and Golden Globe nominee Andrew Scott. Here are some facts about the series' literary origins and its acclaimed first season.
1. The New York Times column upon which Modern Love is based on has been running since 2004.
The New York Times's "Modern Love" column came about after husband and wife writers Daniel Jones and Cathi Hanauer each wrote their own books about the challenges of balancing life, work, and family obligations. Hanauer's book, The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage, was published in 2002; in 2004, Jones wrote a companion title: The Bastard on the Couch: 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom.
After The New York Times wrote a story about the couple, they received a call from Trip Gabriel, one of the paper's editors, asking if they'd be interested in working on a new column that would allow others to share their own unique "love" stories. Together, they commissioned and edited the first batch of "Modern Love" essays. However, due to her novel writing obligations, Hanauer could not commit to the project full-time, so Jones became the column's main editor, and still works in that capacity today.
2. The "Modern Love" column receives more than 9000 submissions each year.
As the popularity of the column grew, so too did the number of submissions. Stories can be submitted as either longform essays (running about 1500 words) or as a shortform "Tiny Love Story" (which runs approximately 100 words), and all recollections must be completely true with no fictional characters or names. (You can read more about how to sumit your own "Modern Love" story here.)
Jones curates a selection of essays from the thousands he receives and looks for a mix of unique and impactful stories. “The essays that stick with me are the ones that are instructive about relationships in ways I haven’t heard before," Jones told Oprah Magazine in 2019. “Finding a new voice and a new perspective is always energizing and fun.”
3. The "Modern Love" column has led to a number of book deals for its writers.
Getting published in the "Modern Love" section of The New York Times has been a springboard for many writers. Jones estimates that the column has led to approximately 50 to 60 book deals. “One of the reasons the column has a large readership in the publishing world is because we showcase the work of so many unknown writers who are telling their most important story,” Jones Jtold Literary Hub in 2019.
Significant books that were born out of "Modern Love" essays include The Thirteenth Horse Won by Ellen Graf, about marrying a stranger, and The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After by Melanie Gideon, about a woman rediscovering life at the age of 43.
4. Amazon’s Modern Love anthology series is based on real "Modern Love" essays.
Running at approximately 30 minutes per episode, each episode of Modern Love is a standalone story based on an essay published in the "Modern Love" column, though some of the details have been altered. Series creator John Carney—the writer/director behind Once and Sing Street—had the challenging task of selecting which of the column's many essays would be ripe for filming, which meant that they needed to be able to live off the page and resonate with viewers.
5. The original essay writers were not involved in adapting their stories for a very good reason.
Although the writers of the original essays were compensated for the use of their work and allowed to give approval of the final episodes before airing, they were not involved in the actual adaptation process—and for a very sensible reason. In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Carney explained that while he wanted the writers' final approval on the finished episode, he didn't want them involved in the creative process so that the series did not "get bogged down in memoir or biography."
6. Modern Love star Catherine Keener may have broken the rule when it came to keeping the original essay writers uninvolved in production.
While Carney preferred to keep the original writers separate from the production process, Catherine Keener—who starred opposite in Dev Patel in "When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist," one of the series' most critically acclaimed installments (it earned Patel an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series)—couldn't help but break that rule in order to give the most authentic performance she could. Deborah Copaken, who wrote the essay the episode is based on but wasn't even allowed to read the script, told Salon about how she met with Keener ahead of filming.
"Catherine Keener sent me an email, using her secret email address, saying, 'I'm playing you, but I'm not allowed to tell you this, and I'm not allowed to meet with you. But how am I going to play you if I have never met you? Can you please meet for lunch?'" Copaken explained. "So, we sort of secretly met. I told Dan Jones afterwards, 'Hey, I met with Catherine Keener.' He told me, 'Wait, you're not supposed to.' I was like, 'Well, we did.' We ended up meeting for lunch at Odeon for four hours. We just sat there and chatted and chatted and chatted. And like moms with kids at the same college, we talked about that. It wasn't necessarily talking about the story itself. We were just talking about who we were in our lives."
7. New York City is its own character on Modern Love.
Each episode of Modern Love was filmed in New York City, providing the focal backdrop to each love story. This was done in homage to The New York Times column and the essayists featured who reside in the city. Much like the human characters portrayed on the show, who are tied to each other through love and other feelings, New York City and the people and places that make it so vibrant are also part of each story.
8. One episode of Modern Love handles mental illness in a uniquely creative and sensitive way.
"Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am," the third episode in the first season of Modern Love, depicts what life is like being bipolar and the effect this has on one's personal relationships. The episode—which is shown through the lens of a character named Lexi, played by Anne Hathaway, as she grapples with the disorder—received particular praise for its heartbreaking, personal approach to showcasing mental illness yet managing to finish the episode with a surprisingly uplifting ending.
9. Modern Love isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues.
The most controversial episode of Modern Love's first season is undoubtedly "So He Looked Like Dad, It Was Just Dinner, Right?" The episode stars Ozark's Julia Garner as Maddy, a young woman enthralled by her much older colleague Peter, played by Boardwalk Empire's Shea Wigham. Maddy confuses her feelings for him as romantic when, really, she is simply yearning for a father figure in her life—giving way to the age-old “Daddy Issues” complex. As a result, the episode is filled with awkward and disturbing exchanges between the pair that border on inappropriate as themes of parental replacement are explored.
10. While waiting for a second season, there’s also a Modern Love podcast you can enjoy.
In addition to books and a TV show, the "Modern Love" column launched a podcast in 2016 which can be enjoyed while waiting for the show's second season (which has already been confirmed). The podcast is narrated by an impressive host of actors, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Issa Rae, and Brian Cox. Even so, Jones was initially surprised by the impact this medium has in retelling these stories. “It’s just a much more direct and sort of intimate experience," he told Oprah Magazine. "And that has proved to be true with the television show too.”