*Spoilers ahead! Watch the series’ second season on HBO Max*

The Good Place star William Jackson Harper leads the HBO Max series Love Life as a Black editor in a White-dominated publishing world who evolves his approach to diversifying the field.

The first season of the series starred Anna Kendrick as an art dealer stumbling through relationships. In this new iteration, we meet Harper’s character Marcus Watkins, who is also stumbling through relationships with the show emphasizing race and culture in his romantic and career choices via pitch-perfect narration by Keith David.

Marcus Watkins in the beginning of the series is married to Emily, played by Maya Kazan, but he’s starting to feel she doesn’t understand him as a Black man in America since she’s White. He makes this realization after meeting Mia Hines, played by Jessica Williams, at Anna Kendrick’s character Darby’s wedding reception at a bar. Marcus and Mia hit it off, though he’s married and she’s in a relationship with who we soon learn is no other than basketballer Amar’e Stoudemire playing himself. Marcus’ emotional affair is discovered by Emily via iPad messages, and they get a divorce. Marcus blames Mia for the divorce, which of course starts a fight that separates them. They reunite after a few relationships, then another mishap happens in their budding love that forces them to separate.

In the end, they finally get together and stay together with a marriage and baby. As an editor, Marcus struggles to get Black voices heard through the book projects he picks up because his publisher, the fictional Sutton Court Publishing, and boss Josh, played by Steven Boyer, are not supportive of his vision. After Marcus quits his job, Mia convinces him to pursue his own novel. He becomes a full-time author and finishes his novel within two years. And they live happily ever after.

Uplifting Black authors

The first episode “Mia Hines” starts off with Marcus poking fun at his new client, a social media influencer who wants to add an insane amount of words in a subtitle of an instructional book. He wants to take on more serious projects, like an Afrofuturism manuscript he found from a Black grad student at Columbia University.

Josh asks about an update on the social media influencer’s book, and Marcus pipes up about the Afrofuturism book. Josh isn’t interested because the sales projections on that type of book is unpredictable while the social media influencer’s book will become an instant best-seller with her built-in audience.

We see Marcus fighting through the frustration of trying to push more works by authors of color. He decides to invite student-author Trae, played by Jordan Rock, into his office. With Marcus’ notes, Trae is not having it. After ridiculing Marcus’ posters of Black authors from Toni Morrison with cigarette in hand to James Baldwin with cigarette in hand, Trae calls Marcus a “safe, nonthreatening” Black editor voicing the opinions of a White editor. Marcus argues no publisher would take on the thousand-page manuscript. They agree to disagree.

It’s not until the season finale “Epilogue,” Marcus reunites with Trae to get feedback on his novel. Trae, who appears to have sold his book, tells him that Marcus’ Black character trying to maneuver through the White publishing world lacks personality. Marcus takes the note, and it motivates him to improve the book that eventually sells to a publisher. After not seeing eye to eye, they become beta reader brothers.

Celebrating a legend

Marcus visits his University of Michigan professor parents in episode “Destiny Mathis.” His distant father Kirby, played by John Earl Jelks, and mother Donna, played by Fresh Prince of Bel-Air “first Aunt Viv” Janet Hubert, seem to be disappointed that Marcus married Emily too soon out of college and now is divorced. Marcus feels like his happily married parents who are celebrating 35 years together don’t understand the complexities of his modern-day relationships.

In episode “Becca Evans,” Marcus is given an invitation to The Paris Review dinner from Josh as a consolation prize of sorts for receiving a promotion without a raise. The dinner honors poetry legend Nikki Giovanni. It’s the perfect way to lure his father to Manhattan from Ann Arbor for a night of bonding out on the town with their favorite poet.

The fact that the show writers and HBO managed to book the legend and have her on TV is amazing in itself. At 78 years old, Nikki Giovanni takes the stage as the living legend she is, reciting “Autumn Poems.”

the heat
you left with me
last night
still smolders
the wind catches
your scent
and refreshes
my senses

I am a leaf
falling from your tree
upon which I was

Nikki Giovanni, “Autumn Poems”

Taking a stand

The season finale “Epilogue” makes several time jumps, starting with New Years’ Day 2020 to March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold of society. As Marcus adjusts to working on his laptop from his couch, he realizes his live-in fling is not taking precautions seriously and breaks up with her. But as soon as he grows accustomed to his stay-at-home routine, the murder of George Floyd forces him to examine his role in society as a Black man.

Due to the pandemic, his job furloughs almost the entire staff, leaving Marcus the only employee of color. Via videoconferencing, Josh asks Marcus to review Sutton Court’s message on George Floyd and its commitment to diversity and inclusion. As much as Marcus had to fight to bring on authors of color that he still wasn’t able to bring on, the ask is too much. And Marcus demanded a proper promotion with a salary bump and didn’t get an answer. The missteps spark an expletive-laden explosion of how Sutton Court fails to have any commitment to diversity and inclusion whatsoever. Marcus quits on the spot by slamming his laptop screen down.

He soon reunites with Mia, who texts him out of the blue. They meet up masked up and commit to give their relationship another try. Then there’s marriage, a baby carriage, and the book Marcus always wanted to write.

The series packs in some Black Hollywood heavy-hitters like Blair Underwood and Kimberly Elise, both playing Mia Hines’ parents. Every episode is named after a person, mostly the woman Marcus is seeing, but under the romantic stumbling is a character of color also looking for his footing in the current publishing landscape.