I am always skeptical when a successful show takes its characters someplace new, burnished by the excited eyes and exoticizing demands of a tourist. It feels to me like a copout. That the world you created wasn't enough. (The most egregious of this has to be the sensual swerve to Turkey in Four More Shots Please!)
Little Things: Season 4 asks, So What? We get beautiful cotton candy skies, dreamy music, Mithila Palkar gracefully cycling around Kochi Fort in a dress like T-Swift in 'Begin Again', a beautiful song in Alappuzha (which is actually about a religious festival in Thrissur, but such geographic approximations must be forgiven) and the characters, disoriented by the new place, throwing barbs and blowing bubbles at each other. The first 4 episodes in Kerala are breezy, punctuated by brief bursts, but bandaged by sweet metaphors — a stuck boat, a broken spectacle.
3 years of living together, and 2 years of being in a long distance relationship has made Dhruv and Kavya share space with a level of comfort and gratefulness that is lived in, broken into, fragile, yet not fungible. They'll fight but they won't break up, right? The investment of emotions, not to mention time, makes everything feel so much more at stake.
Written by Abhinandan Sridhar (the first time Dhruv Sehgal isn't part of the writing team) this season pushes the love and toleration we saw thus far to the final "test" — are they ready to be engaged, to get married? The 8 episodes circle around this question with casual probes. They are not philosophically against marriage. Neither are they bubbling with excitement for it. There is an indifference to the institution but an awareness that it is, afterall, the "next step".
There is so much to be said about Dhruv Sehgal and Mithila Palkar who, with a millennial conviction, where shrugs and pouts have a very distinct purpose and specific meaning, bring to life characters who are equally endearing as they are frustrating — like people we know, like people we love. Their body language, and the spaces in their conversations, where the umms, okays, yaars slip into effortlessly, is crafted with a very obvious graspable ideal. That this can be you, that this might be you.
Arguably, this is also the most frustrating part of the show, especially when they are given dialogues that sound profound and insightful but are essentially empty, vacuous, and boring. When Dhruv wonders, "Were we less in love?", Kavya immediately responds, "Is it that or had we forgotten how much we loved each other?" I am sure people love to think and hope they speak like this, but don't realize how deeply annoying they sound, trying to grasp at air and hoping to find silk threads in their closed fists. But it's just air.
The biggest casualty in this season, however, are the difficult conversations the characters have with other minor characters taking place entirely off-screen — when Dhruv has to tell his team that their salaries will be late, or when Kavya has to tell her boss whom she just hard balled into a transfer for, that she can't come back. The one important conversation Kavya has that we get to see — the one where she hardballs — shows her fierce, competitive side we had only imagined or assumed but never seen thus far. It makes you realize so much of these characters are revealed through their conversations with other people. Because when Kavya and Dhruv converse, it inevitably goes into the ifs-and-buts territory, lots of assumptions, lots of future possibilities, lots of pretentious hand wringing. What insight can these moments possibly give?
This is certainly not helped by the designed sexlessness of Little Things. They talk a lot about sex — phone sex, porn, hickeys — but like abstract ideas of physics, it floats around, while the couple grovel in metaphors. The thing about erotic desire, is that like a difficult conversation, it shows us things, aspects of our personality we did not, and perhaps could not account for. By axing it completely — again, this is by design, to make the show more family friendly, more relatable-aspirational, for we have not quite figured what 'aspirational yet relatable' sex can look like — dimensions of a character are lost.
"Today feels like we have been together for a very very very long time," Dhruv tells Kavya in the last episode, before adding, "I mean this in a nice way." The same could be said about the show, which began as YouTube sketch-like episodes on truly the "little things", but ballooned into bigger, more existential, less romantic, more abstract, less moving, but sometimes equally important questions. It was time they retired. It was time they knew when to retire. For there is grace in departure, too.