When I was in high school, I would always fall asleep with my face pressed to a house phone talking to a boy I was over the moon about.

We’d talk about everything, and because I was sneaking on the phone way past my curfew, I’d whisper, “Listen, if I just hang up, that meant my mom came in.” But I would never ever willingly get off the phone — partly because I wanted to feel as close to him as possible, no matter how many miles away.

And then, I could never forget the anxiety and excitement that came with a date. If I didn’t show up, what would happen? How would he know that I couldn’t make it but that I still cared? Maybe I could page him because if it wasn’t 9 o’clock yet — cell phone minutes still wouldn’t free.

And that’s kind of how the early love days go. The time flies by. Hours feel like just seconds when you’re together, but like days when you’re apart. And if you go somewhere, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just you and them in your own little cocoon — cut off from the world and hoping that something beautiful will grow.

In the first three episodes of OWN’s Love Is___, we see that early stage of love and how quickly things can either blossom — or blow up. The incomparable Mara Brock Akil and her husband, Salim Akil, (think: Girlfriends, The Game, and Being Mary Jane) have teamed up to bring that relatable kind of love to our TV screens. Mara is also serving as showrunner in her directing debut, and the series draws inspiration from the couple’s real-life relationship.

The characters, Nuri and Yasir, first meet in 1997, and the script takes us to some of the places that were the site of the Akils’ early love story — Mara has said this part of the series is about 90 percent true.

And the story feels honest, although falling in love in the ’90s looks a lot different than it does today. Falling asleep on FaceTime has replaced doing it on a landline, and you can reach anyone at almost any time with the touch of a smartphone. You might not have to wait months or years to see someone again, because really, you can probably find their Instagram.

But all in all, whether it’s sliding in a DM or choosing to messenger over a note, in its essence, it’s the same — the same butterflies, the same nonstop chatter about all things related to the person you’re learning, the same secret smiles that hit you in the middle of the day that no one else could possibly understand but you.

And that’s what we get from Nuri and Yasir from the first moment they meet. Here’s the setup:

Decades later, they’re still in love

Not-so-spoiler alert: The show is set up as a series of flashbacks as an older Nuri (played by Wendy Davis) and Yasir (Clarke Peters) are telling their love story to a filmmaker in 2027.

And it’s an adorable setup. The couple jokes and plays around as they reminisce on their early days, and it feels like what years of love should feel like: not perfect but filled with love and legitimate companionship. They feel like they’re genuinely best friends, and there’s an ease and a comfort that the actors are able to pull off that feels real.

Vision and goals

1997 Yasir (played by William Catlett) is not yet where he wants to be, but he can see it. It’s one of the things that connects him to Nuri when they first meet at Insomnia Coffee. Yasir’s best friend, Sean, brings him there to see a girl he likes but have never spoken to: Nuri (played by Michele Weaver).

Learning that Sean has actually never spoken to Nuri, Yasir steps up and walks over to Nuri who says she moved to LA from Kansas City to pursue her dream of being a writer. She’s not getting paid for it just yet, but she tells Yasir that he shouldn’t be afraid of following his dreams, too.

Yasir, who’s still living in the Bay area, wants to direct, write, and tell our stories. Nuri says they have that in common. And Yasir says it was nice meeting her, and walks away without getting her number. He’s probably in a relationship, but the show doesn’t yet get into his situation.

The two guys run into Nuri again a year later who’s out on that same strip shopping for furniture for her new house she just bought. Nuri is now a staff writer on a comedy show. She’s dating multiple men and is just out here having fun. Her focus is on her career and she’s not serious with anyone. She’s aspirational, and now, Yasir is in the same place she was in when they met: working toward a goal but not yet being paid for it.

Yasir is both impressed and inspired by Nuri, remembering how just a year ago, she was chasing her dream, and now, she’s living it. He invites her to go to a jazz concert. He bought the tickets to celebrate figuring out the ending of his third script. He’s unemployed, but she doesn’t know that, and he’s trying to stay positive about his future by getting rid of any negative influences.

And then, there’s Ruby

Yasir first invited Ruby to go to the concert, but she declined. They’re not happy together but are still involved in some kind of situationship (I know, right?) and he lives in her apartment on her couch — a fact she never fails to mention. No, she doesn’t want to go to a concert with him. She says they haven’t accomplished anything and that there’s nothing to celebrate. She tells him to scalp the tickets to help pay for the rent, and if he doesn’t get a traditional job, she’s kicking him out.

She’s not emotionally supportive. And it seems as if they don’t have anything in common. Yasir is excited about his future as a writer, but Ruby, who’s working toward being a yoga instructor, isn’t even proud of her own accomplishments. They don’t seem to have much in common, besides being from the same hometown. She says he’s wasting his time writing, and nothing good can ever come from that difference.

A rejection turned first date

Their first official date happens when Nuri calls Yasir (at Ruby’s house!) to give him back the concert ticket he’d sent over to her job along with a note and press clipping.

But when they meet up, Yasir isn’t going for it and won’t let her give it back. Maybe he can take his roommate, Nuri suggests. He admits that he’d asked her, but that she didn’t want to go.

The more they talk, the more they realize they have in common. When it comes to following their dreams and sacrificing for it, they’re the same. They’re at totally different points in the chase of those dreams at this point, though. Nuri reminisces on the times she had to eat Ramen noodles every day while we know that Yasir is currently struggling financially.

Nuri doesn’t know the severity of Yasir’s money woes just yet, but she continues to encourage him to keep writing and keep trying. She’ll even send his script to her agent, if he wants. She tells him he can do this.

Nuri is giving Yasir the same positive vibes she gave him when they first met. She’s awakened something in him, and he’s hooked. It’s the sign of a good love story. If we didn’t know that the series was based on a real couple, we’d know by this very thing that Yasir and Nuri are building something real — if other outside influences don’t interfere with that natural connection.

They stay and talk until the cafe where they met up literally closes down on them and they both say “I love you.” (Wait, what? Already? OK, we want you to get there, but slow down just a sec, guys.) Nuri goes home to smile secret smiles, and Yasir goes back to Ruby’s.

Ruby can tell he’s been out all night with Nuri and tries to seduce him. She offers him her bed, he turns it — and her — down. She angrily yells that she hopes Nuri doesn’t mind that he’s kind of homeless, is unemployed, and has a kid — a kid that as of the end of the third episode, we don’t know anything about.

Getting to a second date

So Yasir knows that Ruby is ready to kick him out and he keeps pretending to pray every time he knows she’s coming to do so. (The older Yasir admits this during their interview.)

But finally, he’s out of Ruby’s home before he can make specific plans by phone to meet up with Nuri, and a series of communication problems follow: His pager gets cut off, he can’t find the paper he wrote Nuri’s number on, and Nuri didn’t get Yasir’s messages at work when he tried calling her from a pay phone. (Will, a guy who works under Nuri, didn’t give them to her when he was covering the phones. Nuri dated Will, but she didn’t really like him. She stopped talking to him, and he’s sore about it.)

At the same time, Nuri’s boss is putting more pressure on her because she’s been coming up with good ideas for the show. Eyes are on her now, and when they decide to do a last-minute show, she has to stay at work with her team to write for it. Because she hasn’t talked to Yasir, she takes a chance and sneaks out of work a little early while the show is wrapping up taping to get to the concert.

Although she doesn’t really agree with Nuri falling in love with a guy she doesn’t know, her friend and co-worker, Angela, says she’ll cover for her in case anyone is looking. She thinks Nuri is distracted from her career goals. But Nuri says she has to see Yasir; she has to know if what she felt for him is real.

Meanwhile, Yasir is in a tough spot. He’s living out of his car and he hasn’t been able to confirm that Nuri will be there. But he’s going anyway. He gets ready in a parking lot, washing up with a bottle of water, in the hopes that she’ll be there.

Because of the taping, Nuri is super late, and it looks like she’s not coming. But right before Yasir almost sells his tickets for some much-needed money, she runs up, and Yasir’s face lights up with relief. He says he knew she was coming. He didn’t know how he knew, but he just did.

‘The God I know is fair and kind’

After the concert, Yasir and Nuri go back to her house. They’re kissing and getting close, but stop before doing anything. It’s Ramadan for Yasir, and Nuri says she wants to only have sex with her husband in her new home. They eventually try to separate, though, so that Nuri can get some sleep before work the next day.

“The God I know is fair and kind,” Yasir says as he’s leaving, heading to who knows where. “And he’s happy that we followed our heart.”

But when he gets to his car, it won’t start. He stands outside it and smokes a cigarette when Nuri sees him standing there and invites him back in, not knowing exactly why he hadn’t left in the first place.

They stay up all night asking each other questions and talking, and in the morning, Nuri gets a call that she doesn’t have to go into work. That’s good, because not only does she not want to leave Yasir, she also has a “honey do” list for him to dive right in on. They peel off wallpaper and stay in their love bubble as long as possible.

But, their love cocoon is slightly interrupted by the need to run errands — Nuri needs to watch out for Angela who’s meeting someone she met on the internet, and Yassir needs to figure out his whole car situation. But the two agree to meet again 7 p.m. at Insomnia, where they’re going to break fast together. It’s where they first met the year before.

And the Academy Award goes to …

When a woman meets a man on a date for the first time, she has a backup plan. That plan is usually a homegirl waiting in the wings, or nowadays, near her phone, ready to sweep in for the rescue. Look, if ever there was a question about how many more black women should have won Oscars, just watch one instance of this going down. Angela and Nuri pull it off, filled with a fake injury and everything. It’s epic.

At the same time, Yasir is still pretending he isn’t having car trouble. He has to figure out what to do with his car so he pushes it down the street so Nuri doesn’t see it. He needs a tow, but Sean only has one left on his AAA card, so he returns back to Ruby’s place to find hers and use it without her knowing.

When he gets there, his sneaky (and sort of unkind) plan is flipped when he finds out that Ruby just had plastic surgery. She’d turned to liposuction to get more work as a yoga instructor, which is just sad. Ruby, who’s relatively thin, says she felt she had to because there aren’t enough black people into yoga for her to have enough black clients to make a living (late ‘90s, y’all, remember?) and that white studios expect her to not have a butt and thighs.

“I tell you all the time how beautiful you are,” Yasir tells her. Yeah, Yasir [sarcastic voice right here] having an ex tell you that really makes a difference [dramatic eye roll].

It is, though, a reminder of how far we’ve changed as far as black women’s openness and exposure to our mental and physical health. Mara’s Girlfriends was one of the first shows that showed black women doing stuff, like taking yoga, that were traditionally seen as things for white people only. Many of us saw that growing up, and honestly, part of Mara’s brilliance and subsequent impact was normalizing stuff like that onscreen to shape the behavior of black millennial women.

That’s why, above many reasons, we bow down to her. Her shows helped us grow up with open eyes and without a lot of the stereotypes black women before us had to face.

Motherly advice comes correct

Both Nuri’s and Yasir’s mothers are essential in their adult kids’ lives. Yasir’s mother knew Ruby wasn’t for him. And she’d told him so. But she understands how determined he is to be a filmmaker. She says she not only knows he can do it, but she’s seen it, and the push she gives him seems to mentally prepare him for the crazy days he experiences right after: with Nuri, with Ruby, with his car, with everything.

Nuri’s mom sees her daughter falling in love way too fast and gives her some much-needed advice. She reminds Nuri to put her love “on layaway” and enjoy getting to know Yasir before she gives all of her love away to him.

And the reality is definitely that Yasir, with all of his good qualities, also has a lot going on — a lot that Nuri doesn’t know just yet. She soon finds out that her mom is right.

Things get really messy

Yasir stays and takes care of Ruby after he finds her post-surgery, so he misses meeting up with Nuri at Insomnia. He can’t find her number again (Seriously, Yasir, keep it in your wallet, bruh) and she freaks out when he doesn’t show up.

She goes home and starts calling hospitals — a move I’ve definitely done before — and is sad until her neighbor lets her know that she found Yasir’s car down the street in front of her house. And in his car is a bunch of paperwork that brings up even more questions. Does he have a kid? Is he living in his car? What the hell is up?

Nuri instantly feels really stupid because she realizes she doesn’t really know him and storms over to Ruby’s house. Yasir comes to the door, and Nuri demands answers. But Yasir says he’ll tell her everything, but can’t give them to her right now. We all know he should have given her more of the full story during one of their million-hour dates. But now, there’s a recovering Ruby in the next room who has made Yasir promise not to tell anyone about her surgery.

Nuri doesn’t know anything — nothing except for the fact that she’s been stood up and found her man at his ex’s house — and she’s not going to get anything out of him today. She asks him again why he can’t explain himself to her, and he closes the door in her face. Damn.

What do you think about Love Is___? Let me know if you’re watching, too.

Top photo by Michael Desmond © 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Courtesy of OWN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *