You are currently viewing Neil Patrick Harris’ ‘Uncoupled’ is a joyless look at starting over

Neil Patrick Harris’ ‘Uncoupled’ is a joyless look at starting over

Comment

A middle-aged protagonist’s expectations of growing old in comfort and style with their wealthy, handsome partner in a Tastefully, the big Manhattan apartment is unceremoniously obliterated when said partner makes an abrupt departure. Stunned and devastated, the childless protagonist turns to a pair of longtime pals for support, as well as a prickly new friend who’s tied up in a major real estate deal. A feisty but chaotic colleague encourages the protagonist to figure out the next chapter in his life, while shots of a spotless, plutocratic New York casually set to a jaunty, jazzy score suggest his 40s can be so much more than worry in front of a mirror.

This is the story of 50-year-old Carrie Bradshaw in “And Just Like That…”, the sequel to the “Sex and the City” series which premiered last year. So too did Neil Patrick Harris’ Michael Lawson in “Uncoupled,” the charmless new Netflix comedy from Jeffrey Richman and Darren Star, the latter of whom created the iconic HBO show (and later ceded creative control to Michael Patrick King).

Like Carrie, Michael unexpectedly has to start over after years of feeling settled – although in his case, it’s because her boyfriend, Colin (Tuc Watkins), moves out after 17 years without any explanation. For most of the season’s eight episodes, Colin remains a cipher (although it’s not like any of the other characters flesh out much).

Dating as a gay man in your late 40s is a nightmare, Michael complains, especially when so much has changed in hookup culture since the mid-2000s; an entire episode is dedicated to Grindr’s norms and mores. But the real estate agent doesn’t get much sympathy from his wealthiest client, Claire (Marcia Gay Harden, apparently out to become the camp diva through over-the-top deliveries). Mid-divorce from a womanizing husband, self-pity Claire challenges Michael to compare her situation to his – and he’s happy to oblige.

‘P-Valley’, a drama about strippers, is TV’s best representation of covid

Star’s characters have tended to grow old with him. The former child prodigy behind ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ followed ‘Sex and the City’ with ‘Younger,’ the irrepressible romantic sitcom starring Sutton Foster as a 40-year-old woman who poses as a 20 years when no one will hire her for an entry-level job, and “Emily in Paris,” the weightless but compulsively observable girlboss fantasy in which Lily Collins’ titular ingenue will never be as interesting or charismatic as his middle-aged French colleagues.

So one would hope that Star’s latest show would offer some insight into the aging process, especially since it’s the gay TV maker’s first series with a gay male protagonist. But “Uncoupled” is flat, joyless and surprisingly cold. Star’s best shows, like ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Younger,’ tend to be casting triumphs, but it’s hard not to feel like Harris – so heartbreaking in her recent turn on the drama about AIDS from HBO Max’s “It’s a Sin” – is dramatically poorly worded, seemingly handcuffed by the demands of mainstream sympathy. The actor is most inventive in authoritative roles, like the smarmy, maniacal know-it-all Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother.” As the bewildered, drifting Michael who doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feeling the wreckage of someone else’s midlife crisis, Harris seems less assured, more stuck in his head.

Although it takes a few episodes to get there, the actor conjures up a playful spark with Tisha Campbell, who plays his office partner, Suzanne. But it’s not until the final episode that Suzanne and Michael’s friends – kinky weatherman Billy (Emerson Brooks) and hanged dog art dealer Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas), analogues of Samantha and Charlotte, respectively – get significant character development.

What the show lacks most, however, especially given its fatalistic air, are moments of emotional grounding. There are a few scattered, the most poignant being Claire’s loss of her friends after the divorce, as they decide to side with her much wealthier husband. “Uncoupled” tries to balance its aspirational trappings with sexual directness, but the perfectly trimmed, hairless bodies on display also undermine that effort.

If “And Just Like That…” makes middle-aged women look like a long labor, “Uncoupled” doesn’t have much to add from a gay man’s perspective, despite the small milestone of representation it does. ‘he reaches. So it’s perhaps fitting that it makes you mostly nostalgic for Star’s past work.

Decoupled (eight episodes) is streaming on Netflix.

Leave a Reply