The Broadway-to-Hollywood pipeline has never been more active, and it’s easy to see why. Streaming platforms need content. Theater needs revenue streams. Hence the glut of uneven-at-best musical adaptations on platforms like Disney+ and Netflix. But bringing stage and screen talent together to create original stories tailored to streaming can yield more inspired results, as Hulu’s Up Here so endearingly demonstrates. Scripted by Dear Evan Hansen playwright Steven Levenson and sitcom vet Danielle Sanchez-Witzel (New Girl, The Carmichael Show), with Thomas Kail (Disney+’s Hamilton) in the director’s chair and songs by Disney stalwarts Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the series, which debuts on March 24, infuses the magic of Broadway into what might otherwise have been a mundane romantic comedy.
Mae Whitman stars as Lindsay, a habitual good girl with dreams of becoming a writer, who scrounges up the courage to dump her milquetoast fiancé, flee their sleepy Vermont hometown, and move to Manhattan to build a more exciting life, in the fateful year of 1999. While her glamorous roommate is hooking up with a stranger in a bar bathroom, Lindsay—clad in squeaky PVC pants and eager to pass as a real New Yorker—meets Miguel (Carlos Valdes), a sensitive finance guy struggling to fit in with fratty colleagues. They click, but things get complicated fast.
The cycle of breakups and makeups that follows is rom-com boilerplate, and thus the eight-episode season drags a bit. What elevates Up Here are the surreal musical numbers, which illuminate why Lindsay and Miguel keep sabotaging their relationship. Each surrounded by a chorus of critical people from their past—parents, rivals, exes—they’re swept up in showtunes that cast doubt on the possibility of ever really knowing another person and R&B songs about why they’ll never fit in. Offbeat humor and earthy lyrics (on the plastic pants: “What if they’re worth contracting yeast infections in?”) ward off any whiff of saccharine. Like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with a neurotypical twist, Up Here understands that musical sequences are opportunities for introspection—and that nothing can make a brain go haywire like the vicissitudes of love.
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