The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History
Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman are often cited as “couple goals” for their 18-year relationship. Both are TV famous: Mullally is best known as Karen from the ground-breaking and recently-revived TV series Will & Grace; Nick Offerman is most recognizable as Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. The promise of insight into their life together tantalizes with its celebrity glow and its humor from two established comedians who deliver most of the book as dialogue. They’re out to entertain and happy to present a light-hearted, two-person stand-up routine.
The early part of the book wholly delivers on this promise. Mullally promises “a multigenerational, multi-genderational, postmodernist deconstruction of the greatest love story ever told. Meaning, our relationship.” The Greatest Love Story Ever Told is not The Notebook, but instead a discussion of how two real people maintain a dedicated and low-drama romance over a period of decades.
The chapter “The Story of How We Met . . .” fascinates both with its presentation of their early romance and its insights into the day-to-day functioning of Los Angeles theatre culture. (In addition to their TV work, both authors are theater actors, musicians, and comedians.) Their reminiscences give an intimate sense of following overexcited theater kids through a city full of activity.
The couple’s careers have actually mirrored one another closely. Offerman observes, “we both kind of went our way until our late thirties, when we had the uncanny, incredible experience that we both got our jobs on our TV shows, popular Thursday night shows.” Yet there’s also a mismatch. When they two met, Offerman was “living on somebody’s couch, tucking his napkin into his overalls.” Mullally was on hiatus between seasons of Will & Grace, and had just been nominated for her first Emmy. She was (and is) 12 years his senior.
The age difference is only touched on briefly, and like many potentially interesting issues in the marriage, is rapidly dismissed. Mullally’s bisexuality is left entirely to the side. Hollywood ageism and sexism are never raised. Offerman’s comments on the gender dynamics of their relationship are fairly simple: “I daresay that the domestic competence of Megan and me is not dissimilar to that of my parents.” This is perhaps not too shocking, given that Offerman has become the poster boy for rugged masculinity and identifies as a carpenter as well as an actor. However, it would be interesting to read their insights into how gender works and how it has changed, and nothing that intimate is offered up.
It’s odd that a book that purports to be upfront about sexuality gives so little intimate access. Offerman and Mullally recount one frankly startling sexual anecdote (mutual masturbation in the Sistine Chapel). Otherwise, though, their discussion of sex is brief and largely fatuitous. The chapters on sex and religion could have been omitted from the book without any real loss. The authors are so obviously uncomfortable discussing these matters in detail that they’d be better served to leave them alone.
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told is at its best discussing Mullally’s origins and career. Her dysfunctional family history feeds into accounts of learning to both withdraw from the world and perform from attention. Mullally’s solo chapter “My Life as a Stripper” playfully explores her father’s “performances” of his own death and her mother’s, which child-Megan both does and doesn’t accept. Megan’s early judgements of the performance world are likewise funny and disturbing: “Playboy Bunny?? That’s a lowly occupation. It’s no stripping, but I guess it pays the bills.”
Offerman’s life has already been explored in two books, and its history of Midwestern virtue and comfort could be abbreviated without much loss. After Mullally summarizes his family as “like a Norman Rockwell painting,” there’s little more to be said.
The book doesn’t entirely hold together. While the authors’ romance is real, its lack of conflict gives them no real place to go. Later chapters lose their focus and sense of purpose. As the performance energy wanes, so does the charm. Multiple references to “demanding book editors” might be intended as humor, but it’s also clear that they were rushed to finish and submitted what material they had, whether it was top-notch or (as the later chapters) not.
Perhaps Tolstoy was right. All happy families are the same, even when the family is made up of comedic stars. But fans of Offerman and Mullally will likely still enjoy this book. When they’re on, they’re wonderful, and it’s easy to be happy for them.