The new romantic drama Love Is__ from award-winning producers Mara Brock Akil (“Girlfriends,” “Being Mary Jane,” “The Game”) and Salim Akil (“Black Lightning”) is inspired by the couple’s real-life love story. The show follows Nuri and Yasir who comes from opposite worlds as they chase their dreams as storytellers in Hollywood in 1990’s Los Angeles and quickly fall in love.
New to emerge among other successful original Oprah Winfrey Network dramas such as Queen Sugar and Greenleaf, it’s the newest series to emerge that celebrates love and pays tribute to the Akils’ collective artistry and history.
“I hope people can see themselves in it. You know, I mean, I just hope that they can see themselves and not see this as a blueprint but see it as permission to sort of have their own relationship and design it the way that it works for them,” Salim Akil says in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
He suggests couples creating your relationship to what works for you naturally instead of following #RelationshipGoals ideal, adding, “I think oftentimes people are looking for one blueprint. We try to live someone else’s life and we don’t look at the nuances of the person we’re sitting across from. I think that designing your own relationship for yourself, I think this will hopefully inspire people to do that.”
When Yasir Met Nuri
In the series premiere we’re introduced to a beautiful older woman who sets an sentimental tone as she narrates her experience of meeting a man who was “a meteor” that hit her life that she didn’t see coming. “He blew up my world and my plans,” she explains. “He unearthed the truth in me, made me take off this mask that I’d been wearing so that you can see the real light in me. So that I can see the real light in me.”
Picture it. Los Angeles, 1996. Two men sitting in a café having a somewhat one-dimensional conversation about women with one gushing about a girl he doesn’t know who frequents. She matches America’s stereotypical idea of beauty: light skinned and long curly hair. She walks in. Curly hair, torn jeans, turning the coach and coffee table into her work station with her laptop, books, and notepads. Yasir (Will Catlett) confidently walks over to introduce himself to Nuri (Michele Weaver), a native of Kansas City who moved to Los Angeles to fulfill her dreams of becoming a successful writer. In their brief exchange he’s transparent and she’s reserved yet optimistic — but you think nothing of it. They’re just two strangers meeting in a café.
We meet the couple in their present-day “wiser” selves played by Wendy Davis (“Army Wives”) and Clarke Peters (“The Wire”) after 30 years together — now married and successful in their respective careers. The two share how they fell in love after reconnecting a year later and managed to stay in it after all these years through sarcastic and playful banter. The conversation then quickly turns to Ruby.
Yasir is in his early 30s, down to two unemployed checks and on his luck, yet is typing away on his third script much to the frustration of his on-again-off-again girlfriend and roommate Ruby (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing). Her dreams are idling, summing up her aspiring business venture as a yoga instructor to “leotards and business cards.”
Ruby is a woman of deep agitation as her nature is that of singer Gwen Guthrie’s 1986 anthem “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent” as she threatens to kick him out if he doesn’t contribute as she’s the sole breadwinner. (“My name is the one of the lease!”) Even her sarcastic remark of the possibility of rubbing the jazz concerts tickets Yasir bought to celebrate leaving their hometowns will turn into rent money. Sis is over romantic pleasantries that can’t be monetized.
“You got to have a j-o-b, if you wanna be with me. No romance without finance.”
Whether you simply write him off as broke, dead weight out of touch with his reality or a broke creative who’s passionate about becoming a filmmaker — Yasir is a reflection of so many creatives trying to make a way for himself instead of settling. I know that experience far too well.
Nuri on the other hand is flourishing since last sitting on the sofa of the café as a struggling writer. She has a Halle Berry haircut, bought a new home and works for the TV sitcom “Marvin” where she’s working to make a name for herself as a writer in the industry. Kadeem Hardison’s presence (“A Different World”) as her strict boss and executive producer Norman was a pleasant dose of nostalgia.
Nuri is bubbly and idealist yet she’s the quintessential single woman of the 1990s who desires the dream man, the dreamcareer, the good life.
“I’m educated, I’m bringing a career not a job to the table, student loans pretty much paid off, homeowner! Why am I wrong if I require a brother to match my efforts as a prerequisite to marriage?”
Side note: who else would die if your mother came in your house with your neighbor while you’re in bed with a guy you work with? Let alone with your neighbor? Not just me? Great.
The awkward exchange as her mother played by Tammy Townsend (“Sherri”) prying into her daughter’s love life opens the conversation on Nuri’s unattached, free spirited nature as she’s juggling three unfulfilling romances. Her coworker Will seems to have caught feelings quickly despite her directing him to not to fall in love with her. Her mother injects herself to give a sense of clarity — even if her approach is quirky — on why she desperately needs a life outside of work.
“Work is making you emotionally unavailable which makes you look like a user.”
“I am not a user. I give him gas money all the time.”
The parallels between Yasir and Nuri are evident as he and his friend Sean (Tyrone Marshall Brown) notices her out and about shopping for furniture for her new home. She glows and he’s stumbling around the city in his draws— excuse me, his Calvins. Everything she earlier proclaimed in what she desires in a man is all the reason for Yasir to keep his distance but again he pursues. I could feel the awkwardness as he approached her in the store, introducing himself with, “We met a year ago…” and her uncomfortable “Oh yeah?” But there’s an energy between the two that softly sparkles and he’s willing to take a chance from where he is by inviting her out to the jazz concert. In his draws. His draws, y’all.
“This is effort! This is the kind of effort that Essence Magazine imagines for us, and you don’t know his name?” — Angela
Her challenges her to be vulnerable in a way she hasn’t been with the other three men and she simply cannot fake around him. He sees through it even as she tries to turn down going to the concert with him because of Daddy issues.
“What do you make time for?” he asks her. What started as a rejection of the date as suggested by Angela (Idara Victor) turned into a nearly eight-hour conversation with them getting to know each other — struggling as writers, sacrificing, their parents, and her encouraging Yasir to not go back home. I can see his gratitude for her believing in him and offering to read his scripts despite Ruby who believes and voices that his efforts are fruitless.
Opening up to one another which visibly catches Nuri off guard as she opened up about her absent father with tears, shocked of her own revelation. The moment he ponders on what their life would’ve been like if they a year prior if they dated where things deepen quickly. Then he questions what if they decided to do now what they couldn’t do then. He is persistent and instantly invested, asking, “What if we was together for a year from now already and it was time to say goodbye, what would you say to me?” Hesitant, she replies, “I can’t say that” but he urges her to. They exchange hypothetical I love yous and after being kicked out, they passionately kiss outside the café.
Love Is__ has a level of enchantment with dashes of reality with two connected by chance and shares the truth of themselves in a honest way. Its introduction shows the potential of complicating the narrative between Yasir and Nuri — not with flowery scenarios but showcasing the complexity of making a relationship work. What will they sacrifice? What will they gain in exchange? Most importantly, how did Nuri save his life?
I’ve been familiar with Brock-Akil and her history of showing the nuances of black characters from the women of Girlfriends to Mary Jane Paul. With her and Akil taking the pages of their personal life and their team up with Winfrey, I’m interested in seeing how these characters will go forward with defining love on television in a way that’s fresh and new.
Love is definitely promising.
Love Is__ airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on OWN.