Hard Times To Fall in Love is a candid portrayal of dating today and the questions we find ourselves asking – such as how can we find love in these warped, pandemic-stricken times, stuck at home on a dating app?

The new six-part anthology web series is a poignant snapshot of a group of 20- and 30-somethings trying to get by and find love. It’s produced and directed by Daniel Cahill, a freelance videographer and editor based in Melbourne.

Each nine-minute episode centres around two characters – friends, housemates, siblings, past lovers or new, could-be lovers – and offers a glimpse into their relationship dilemmas. Written and produced independently, the ensemble cast includes Sunny Leunig, Kathleen Mary Lee (from SBS’s Sex and Death), comedian Stuart Daulman, plus a cameo from Australian musician Tim Rogers.

With a focus on characterisation rather than complex plotlines, Cahill captures raw, up-close moments between each pair that are easily relatable and often witty. We observe the delightful awkwardness of first dates, the stab of unintentional rejection, the strain of parenting, and the spite and lingering chemistry of exes. Wrapped together with a mostly Aussie soundtrack (cue the likes of Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Cool Sounds and Sui Zhen), the series is both aurally and emotionally close to home.

“I didn’t want anything larger than life, I just wanted relatable stories from people you see around Melbourne. I wanted to keep it authentic,” says Cahill, who based the stories and characters on his own friends and experiences.

He says he was influenced by New York-based comedy-drama series High Maintenance (which started as a web series and got picked up by HBO) for its “real stories and real people”.

In Hard Times, the camera is always slightly distant from the characters. Viewers are made to feel like passers-by, eavesdroppers on a casual but intimate conversation.

In episode one, we see Heidi and Angela buy ice-cream together on Melbourne’s busy Lygon Street, musing over failed Tinder dates and ex-boyfriends. Eventually the aforementioned Tinder date actually passes by, asking if Heidi chose not to see him again simply because he didn’t own a keep cup. Tough gig. Her response is half-arsed and clumsy – like something we’ve all heard before.

In another episode, Adam and Ella are walking home, giddily holding hands after a successful first date. They challenge one another to talk about the meanest thing they’ve ever done, only to find that one is far more brutally honest and pained by their experiences of hurt and failed relationships than the other.

“There’s a larger audience out there that can relate to it,” says Cahill of the show. “Although it’s based in Melbourne, they’re universal stories. The core of Hard Times is human relationships … More than story, more than plot, it’s what’s going on in people’s lives.”

The show was predominantly shot in inner-northern Melbourne and St Kilda and, while they are identifiable, the suburbs could belong in almost any Australian city. Cahill says they represent the places he circumnavigated within his five-kilometre radius during lockdown – a period that inspired him to write more.

Each episode was filmed in one day and shot in continuous takes, resulting in long, lifelike scenes. Working with a skeleton cast and crew (including two close mates), Cahill wrote, edited and graded each episode himself. In time, he hopes for the series and stories to expand. “I want the world to grow and meet more characters,” he says. “Some of these characters will meet again, but I’d like to introduce a raft of new characters.”

Hard Times to Fall in Love is available to watch free here. Find its music playlist here.