Netflix’s Uncoupled Is a Gay Rom-Com Stuck in the Sex and the City Era

3 minute read

One of the oldest criticisms of the Sex and City franchise is that it isn’t really about women. Some viewers, citing the four central characters’ promiscuity and frank talk about their casual hookups, have concluded that they’re secretly avatars for gay men like creator Darren Star and executive producer Michael Patrick King. Premised on retrograde ideas about men, women, and sex, this theory also erases the voices of the many women who worked on the series. What it does get right, sadly, is the assumption that when SATC debuted, in 1998, it would’ve been impossible, even on HBO, to make an equally blunt show about queer sexuality.

Nearly a quarter-century later, after two American iterations of Queer as Folk and with King overseeing the Carrie Bradshaw brand in And Just Like That, Star has made a TV-MA romantic comedy whose central characters really are gay men. Co-created with Modern Family alum Jeffrey Richman, starring Neil Patrick Harris, and set to stream July 29 on Netflix, Uncoupled chronicles the misadventures of middle-aged men seeking men in Manhattan. It’s a faster-paced, more entertaining show than King’s inert SATC sequel, but one marked by many of the same distracting defects, from overly stylized dialogue to underdeveloped characters to a bad case of affluenza.

Uncoupled. (L to R) Brooks Ashmanskas as Stanley James, Neil Patrick Harris as Michael Lawson, Emerson Brooks as Billy Jackson in episode 101 of Uncoupled. Cr. Sarah Shatz/Netflix © 2022
From left: Brooks Ashmanskas as Stanley James, Neil Patrick Harris as Michael Lawson, Emerson Brooks as Billy Jackson in 'Uncoupled'Sarah Shatz—Netflix

When we meet Harris’ Michael, a real estate agent, he’s in bed with Colin (Tuc Watkins), his finance-guy partner of 17 years, administering the sensual portion of Colin’s 50th birthday gift. By the time they reconvene that night, Colin has quietly moved out of their perfect apartment. He breaks the news just before they make their entrance to the surprise party Michael has organized for him. The final blow comes when Colin dashes all hope of reconciliation—in a text message.

As Michael mourns, his single pals drag him into a contemporary gay dating scene shaped by Grindr and PrEP. In SATC terms, art dealer Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas) is the lonely, career-driven Miranda of the trio and TV weatherman Billy (Emerson Brooks) the Samantha, collecting one-night stands and dispensing bawdy quips (“You’ve got to play hard to get if you want to get him hard again”). Which is fitting, because sweet Michael is equal parts traditional, vanilla Charlotte and self-centered, overly analytical Carrie. Along with his work wife Suzanne (Tisha Campbell) and the imperious, superrich divorcée client Claire (Marcia Gay Harden) they’re courting, these are the people who help Michael realize that he can be kind of a handful.

But most characters lack anything approaching Michael’s depth. Colin oscillates between nice guy and sociopath. Claire reads as a First Wives Club cliché despite Harden’s arch, fun performance. Hookup apps aside, the Manhattan they inhabit, where everyone is wealthy and talks like they’re in a racy Neil Simon play, feels badly dated. “Don’t you just love New York?” gushes a man Michael picks up while running errands. “Grocery shopping one minute, hooking up with a hot guy the next!” And just like that… it’s as if the last 20 years of sex and the city, gay and straight, never happened.

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