What ‘Uncoupled’ Netflix, ‘Sex and the City’ share: money

Darren Star (along with Modern Family’s vet Jeffrey Richman) offers another urban lifestyle fantasy with Uncoupled, which premieres on Netflix Friday. It can be thought of as the third in a New York trilogy beginning with stars “Sex and the City” and “Younger,” or a tetralogy if we consider the short-lived 1995 prime-time soap Central Park West include. But let’s call it a trilogy.

Like Younger, in which Sutton Foster played a 40-year-old woman who passes for someone in her 20s, it begins with a midlife breakup. Neal Patrick Harris plays 40-year-old Michael whose 17-year-old partner Colin (Tuc Watkins) tells him he’s moving out just as they attend the lavish surprise party Michael has arranged for him. (Colin turns 50; this is a story where all the main characters are middle-aged.) Michael will spend the rest of the eight-episode first season obsessing, trying to move on, obsessing even more, and flat on falling your nose (literally in a nice slapstick) and getting up again. (There’s also a selection of him skiing backwards downhill.)

Michael is a high-end residential real estate agent; the powerful Tisha Campbell plays his friend and business partner Suzanne. (His other significant friends are art dealer Stanley, played by Brooks Ashmanskas, and TV weatherman Billy, played by Emerson Brooks.) The properties they trade tend to be modern and charmless, in a way that means money. (You’re probably supposed to find them impressive.) The city’s interpolated shots favor new glass towers over venerable landmarks.

“I feel like I’m in one of those 1930s movies where the Great Depression is outside, but up here it’s just Fred Astaire and cocktails and soirees,” says Michael while surveying Claire’s (Marcia Gay Harden) apartment, the recently left reflects Michaels. However, this applies to almost the entire series, if not the entire oeuvre of Star, in which even the bohemian is glamorous. Its Manhattan, here a place of terraced penthouses, chic restaurants, and upscale clubs, is purged of the slightest hint of poverty or even bourgeois living — as seems to be the real plan, where the median rent recently hit $5,000. (“I remember Hell’s Kitchen when you couldn’t walk west of 9th Avenue without getting hit with a knife,” says Stanley. “Now it’s Chelsea, with better gays.”)

Everyone here is wealthy, although some are fabulously wealthier than others. We have to understand Michael, who works on assignment and is constantly hectic, as a kind of labor servant; Nonetheless, when we see him walk out of an ordinary drugstore into a Meet Cute, it feels for a moment as if we’ve stepped into another series that we might wish to stick with a little longer.

A woman dressed all in white lies on a couch

Marcia Gay Harden as Claire Lewis “Uncoupled.”

(Sarah Shatz/Netflix)

As is usual in celebrity shows (Emily in Paris being one of them), the characters often meet at private parties and exclusive events — a private viewing, a roller disco fundraiser, a Central Park fundraiser, a celebration of the most eligible Men of town, a bris, a wedding, a game of poker. And, of course, that exposure-packed opening surprise party, which includes performances by Tony Award-winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”).

Inevitably, it is suggested that the cure for lost love is sex – that’s the TV custom – and so we are presented with the 100th iteration of the ‘first time on a dating app’ scenario. There’s a lot of talk about penises. But the explicit message is that sex is just sex; Human connection, whether friendship or enduring romantic love, is what matters. The lovesick Stanley (“You don’t want to be gay and single in this town at our age – you’re invisible”) and the sexual butterfly Billy (“I think it gets better with age – the number of young men who get addicted wanting to date an older man is ridiculous”) around Michael, who is far from invisible but not exactly on the prowl, a dialectic framework. His (comparatively) older-generation conservatism and his own ways keep him from jumping headlong into the sex business, although he does grow into it a little – and so while there is sex, sex is also rejected or interrupted. (And because it’s funnier that way, you’d take a gamble.) His desire for more is what makes “Uncoupled” sweet, grown-up entertainment.

Harris fits the role so well you’d think it was written for him. He retains some of his Doogie Howser boyishness, but he’s handsomely weathered – the worry lines on his forehead serve the role admirably – and that’s consistent with Michael’s middle-aged naivety. (But he’s muscular, like every man he associates or almost associates with; indeed, apart from the soft-edged Ashmanskas and the lithe André de Shields as Michael’s neighbor, the actually aged Jack, muscular character is practically taken for granted .)

Still, it’s not a one-man show. While not exactly a Sex and the City-esque ensemble piece, as the emotional focus is mostly on Michael, Billy and Stanley, and Suzanne in particular, get some individual storylines, and Claire becomes a more interesting character when she poses as something like that turns out a new, needy friend. The supporting actors are strong. As Stanley, the Tony-nominated Ashmanskas makes a deep impression and does nothing remotely extravagant; De Shields has the season’s most moving monologue, and Campbell his best laugh line: “I know you’re crazy, honey, but we’re going to need that stapler.” (You’ve got to look at the context.)

A straight-up romantic sitcom centered on gay men, “Uncoupled” is still a rarity for television, even for Star Who’s been out forever — though that has more to do with Hollywood’s historical audacity than with the creator. Star made it a point that the story could belong to anyone, which is true and a good deal, even if there are plenty of references specific to the community — like confronting a younger man who doesn’t want to wear one condom and has never heard of the AIDS quilt, Michael wails, “Oh my god you millennials. Don’t you know where we come from, where you got your freedoms from? Don’t you know what people like about me – well, I don’t, a bit older, but I’ve seen ‘Angels’ – don’t you know what we sacrificed for you?” It’s that combination of specificity and universality that which makes “Uncoupled” seem somehow radical and quite relatable at the same time.


Where: Netflix

When: Anytime, starting Friday

Valuation: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17, with warnings about harsh language, nudity and smoking)

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-07-28/netflix-uncoupled-neil-patrick-harris-darren-star-review What ‘Uncoupled’ Netflix, ‘Sex and the City’ share: money

Sarah Ridley

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