A man and woman talking outdoors in a brightly lit scene with trees

“It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Being in love?” one title character asks another in the fourth episode of Alice & Jack, Victor Levin ’83’s PBS miniseries chronicling 15 years of ups and downs between hedge fund manager Alice (Andrea Riseborough) and biomedical researcher Jack (Domhnall Gleeson). The sheer overwhelming nature of love is a central topic for the six-episode series, which begins with a low-key meeting at a London bar in 2007, hardly an obvious harbinger of grand romance and heartbreak.

But there’s an immediate spark between the two characters, fueled by Alice’s forceful personality, as she peppers Jack with existential questions about his life and career, then offers him the ultimatum of either heading back to her apartment right away or parting as friendly acquaintances. It’s tempting to cite Alice as an example of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” a chaotic woman whose sole narrative purpose is to shake up a timid man’s settled life, but, for the first couple of episodes of Alice & Jack, she’s more like a nightmare.

Levin, who wrote every episode, never shies away from the potentially toxic aspects of his characters’ all-consuming love story, even as he ultimately affirms its transcendent power. The first episode opens with what looks like a final parting, before flashing back two years to reveal how Alice and Jack arrived at that point. When the second episode ends right where the first began, it feels like a conclusion, the kind of deliberately unresolved ending that Levin brought to his two films as a writer-director, 2014’s 5 to 7 and 2018’s Destination Wedding.

It’s really just the beginning, though, and Levin has higher ambitions here, befitting the expanded runtime. The next two episodes leap-frog across 13 years, as Alice and Jack repeatedly part and reunite, while engaged in other personal and professional pursuits. The pace slows down again in the final two episodes, which take place in 2022 as the couple’s odyssey of ecstasy and anguish reaches its conclusion. The series is both expansive and intimate, always focused on the small interactions between its main characters even as their worlds grow busier and more  complicated.

Two women in a modern office at a desk with a computer

Jack has an all-consuming romance with Alice, a hedge fund manager.

A story like that requires actors who can anchor the material, and Riseborough and Gleeson are equally fascinating to watch whether Alice and Jack are casually joking around or intensely discussing the state of their relationship. The stars convey their characters’ growth over the years, especially Alice’s evolution from an often overbearing control freak into a more grounded partner. Although Jack gets more screen time, Alice undergoes a greater change, and the wise, mature woman of the finale stands in stark contrast to the volatile loner of the premiere.

Directors Juho Kuosmanen and Hong Khaou, who split duties on the six episodes, keep the focus on that central connection, leaving the handful of supporting characters on the periphery even as they’re engaged in their own background subplots. There are moments of humor in Alice & Jack, but Levin and the characters always take love seriously.

A veteran TV writer whose credits stretch from 1990s sitcoms Mad About You and Dream On through stints on Mad Men, pro-wrestling drama Heels and current NBC comedy Extended Family, Levin has plenty of experience writing about all types of couples. He distills that into a sort of ur-coupling, putting Alice and Jack through several TV seasons’ worth of obstacles. Alice & Jack’s most affecting sequence features the couple in 2022 wistfully spinning a tale about their imagined future, a contented life of kids, travel and peaceful retirement. It could be the culmination to Levin’s own journey as a writer examining the varied manifestations of a primal human need.

Bell is a critic and writer based in Las Vegas.

Images from Fremantle.