Platonic Tests the Limits of How Fun It Is to Watch Two Friends Stumble Through Their Midlife CrisesPhoto courtesy of Apple TV+ Comedy Reviews Platonic
When do most people suffer from midlife crises these days? I ask because the last three years have felt like dog years when it comes to our cumulative mental health so I wouldn’t be surprised if the median age for substantive spiraling had regressed down to 25. However, the new Apple TV+ comedy series, Platonic, seems to be adhering to the Judd Apatow model meltdown age of 40, and uses Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen—playing formerly estranged best friends—to reflect on the turmoil of life, love, and pent-up rage. The result is an uneven modern screwball comedy that often gets too big and too repetitive for its own good. Luckily, the rapport of its leads carries it through to make it a relatively pleasing watch.
You might remember that Byrne and Rogen played old marrieds in Neighbors and its sequel. Both were directed by Nicholas Stoller, who has co-created Platonic with his wife, Francesca Delbanco. They’ve reunited Byrne and Rogen once more to play Sylvia and Will, former college besties who five years ago parted on terrible terms when she warned him against marrying his fiancée, Audrey (Alisha Wainwright). He did anyway and they went radio silent with one another. It’s only when Sylvia finds out via social media that Will is recently divorced that her husband, Charlie (Luke Macfarlane), suggests she take the opportunity to reconnect and mend fences.
Long story short, they do, and quickly become one another’s emotional crutches and chaos instigators. For Sylvia, Will is a conduit back to her wild, partying days before she was a stay-at-home mother of three children, living in a cramped SoCal house with a husband of 13 years who always knows how to “adult” right. For Will, Sylvia is his candid champion who calls him out on his Peter Pan syndrome and his emotional attachment to his ex, as well as prompting him to stand up for himself as the Brew Master for the IPA pub that he co-owns with a VC frat guy (Andrew Lopez) and pragmatic male best friend, Andy (Tre Hale).
One of the most refreshing aspects of Platonic is that it commits to having Sylvia and Will be just that throughout the series. Their partners certainly have moments questioning their tight bond, and in the case of Charlie, there’s definite jealousy as Sylvia turns to Will for his advice about major and minor life decisions that she should be making with him. Stoller and Delbanco certainly crib from the When Harry Met Sally template when it comes to depicting their intimate friendship bond, but mostly shove the “will they/won’t they” aspect into a closet so that it doesn’t suck up all the air in the show. It’s freeing for the series in general, and allows them to avoid the various rom com tropes that take up a lot of space in mixed gender friendship shows.
Unfortunately, where the series does fall into cliche is in playing too broad with its comedy scenarios. In establishing that Will and Sylvia don’t exactly bring out the best in one another, or enable one another’s worst impulses, the episodes routinely devolve into increasingly ridiculous scenarios that they create and then have to help one another escape. It’s very reminiscent of Apatow-style cringe comedies. There are too many points within the eight episodes that their hijinks go so far that you actually question how Will has a job and Charlie hasn’t divorced Sylvia. They are a lot separately, and even more together, which tried my patience too often instead of just tickling me.
There’s also an over-reliance on the pair boozing and drugging their way through Los Angeles. In six of the eight episodes, it’s a core conceit of the narrative and that gets tiresome. Yes, there’s truth and comedy in characters trying to recapture their youth storylines. But there’s also writers not knowing how else to convey that existential struggle, so they lazily return to the same “I’m so blitzed” well far too many times. Maybe it’s de rigueur in a Rogen comedy, but at this stage of his career, he’s way beyond that cliched lane.
What kept me engaged and not giving up on these two was the strength of the ensemble, particularly, Byrne and Rogen. The series really pops in its smaller moments, when Rogen, Byrne, or other members of the talented ensemble are allowed more tempered conversations where they can just be real with one another, or throw out some blazingly funny, off-the-cuff observations about the situations at hand. There are more laugh-out-loud moments in those organic improv scenes than there are in the overly orchestrated setups. In particular, Carla Gallo as Slyvia’s best girlfriend, Katy, and Vinny Thomas as junior bar employee Omar, shine, stealing just about every scene they’re in.
There’s also an engaging momentum to the overall arc of the season. The push and pull between Sylvia and Will is written in such a way that even when they screw up so colossally with their partners, their work, or their social circles, you’re compelled to know where it’s all gonna end up. Will the extremely patient and supportive Charlie eventually implode on Sylvia for her antics? Is it possible for Will to grow up and get out of his own way to a happier life? To the show’s credit, it succeeds in making you want to know the answers to those questions, and more. So Platonic works best as a character study of two people who just get one another, major flaws and all. But as a great comedic series, it’s ultimately less satisfying or thought-provoking than one would hope.
Platonic premieres on Apple TV+ on May 24.
Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, Total Film, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios and The Art of Avatar: The Way of Water. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen