Can men and women be friends? It’s an ancient rom-com question, the one from When Harry Met Sally, and one that screenwriters will apparently never stop posing despite the ample real-world evidence that, yes, people can enjoy each other’s company across a largely illusory gender binary without sex coming into the equation. (Also, queer people exist.) Platonic, an Apple TV+ comedy series that reunites Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and their Neighbors director Nicholas Stoller, at least modifies the inquiry a bit. OK, it allows, maybe men and women can be friends. But can those relationships survive one or both of the pals’ marriage to another person?
It still isn’t an especially fresh premise, and characters who initially come across as types more than individuals don’t help distinguish the show, which premieres with a three-episode drop on May 24, from so many we’ve all seen before. But, like a crush on someone you thought you could never fall for, Platonic sneaks up on you. Each half-hour episode moves at a punchy pace. The dialogue is mostly sharp. Best of all, Byrne and Rogen are hilarious together—and the sense that they’re having a great time makes their misadventures a lot of fun to watch.
At first glance, estranged friends Sylvia (Byrne) and Will (Rogen) would seem to have nothing in common. She’s a married stay-at-home mom in the residential idyll of Culver City, hunting for a home with more than one bathroom for her demanding family of five and wistful for the pre-parental years when she practiced law alongside her straight-arrow husband, Charlie (Luke Macfarlane). “You look like you live at Ann Taylor Loft,” Will tells her, and it’s a fair assessment. She isn’t exaggerating, either, when she describes his bucket-hat-heavy look as “a ’90s grunge clown.” Like so many Rogen characters, Will is an overgrown child. He co-owns—and presides obsessively over the beers made on premises at—a trendy brewpub in L.A.’s Arts District.
You can see why these two 40-year-old clichés have drifted apart over the years. But more than a decade ago, they were hard-partying besties, getting into all sorts of trouble together. Bored, frustrated, and stymied by her daily routine, Sylvia seizes a chance to reconnect with Will when she learns that he has divorced the wife she’d been vocal about disliking, Audrey (Alisha Wainwright). The friends still click in that comfortable way that old buddies do. All that stands in the way of their relationship is, supposedly, society. In a self-aware scene that only underlines how tired this subject has become, Will and his business partners debate the meaning of When Harry Met Sally. “That movie should be called When Harry F-cked Sally,” says one. “You can only be friends with a woman if she’s not hot.” There’s another one we’ve all heard before.
The idea that such a friendship would scandalize a cohort of elder millennials in Southern California in the year 2023 is a stretch. So is Stoller and co-creator Francesca Delbanco’s initial sketch of Sylvia. (The collaborators, who also helmed Netflix’s Friends From College together, happen to be married.) Her daily life is a gauntlet of the stereotypical humiliations lazy comedy writers associate with female middle age, from her envy of the working moms who “have it all” to a scene in which the dads at school dropoff ignore the greetings of Sylvia and her friend Katie (Carla Gallo) because, as Katie puts it: “No one is looking at us. We’re invisible.” If there is a world in which Rose Byrne is too frumpy to attract male attention, I never want to live in it.
The irritating setup is a lot to overcome—and yet, a third of the way through the 10-episode season, I was surprised at how much I was enjoying Platonic. Although their characters are broadly conceived, Rogen and Byrne often transcend those tropes, especially when they’re on screen together. More than an aging hipster and a repressed mom, Will and Sylvia are two people who bring out the goofiest, most audacious parts of one another. The show is laugh-out-loud funny when their antics escalate to physical comedy; there’s a pharmaceutically altered Sylvia making a mess out of a convenience-store wine aisle and a great running gag that involves the wanton destruction of that ubiquitous urban menace, the e-scooter.
The actors’ electric friend-chemistry—along with Macfarlane’s sensitive portrayal of Charlie, a good-hearted normie who adores his wife’s wild side—ultimately enables Stoller and Delbanco to steer Will and Sylvia’s relationship away from rom-com territory already covered by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. As the season progresses, and scripts increasingly subvert viewers’ expectations, Platonic becomes less about gender and more about the connection between the people we are in our 20s and the people we become in midlife. Too much change makes us unrecognizable to ourselves; too little leads to stagnation. Both are recipes for dissatisfaction. And it’s the people who’ve known us forever who are the best equipped to help us evolve.
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