Welcome to Up Next, a recurring column keeping an eye out for the best new shows on the horizon. This week, TV critic Valerie Ettenhofer checks in with a review of the new Apple TV+ comedy Platonic.
Making friends as an adult is hard, and sometimes keeping them can be even harder. This is something the creators of the Apple TV+ series Platonic clearly know, as the shaggy but loveable new ten-episode series explores the messy, hurtful, and sometimes hilarious reasons people who love each other drift apart. The show is from Neighbors director Nicholas Stoller and Friends From College co-creator Francesca Delbanco, and it reunites Neighbors stars Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne to great effect.
Its best achievement, though, is the way it delivers on its title: Platonic is a platonic love story through and through. As its story unfolds, demonstrating the many ways adult friendship between men and women can be interesting, dynamic, and deeply funny without a romantic element, its low-key charms transform into something quietly subversive: a rom-com-esque love story that refuses to give into the “rom” of it all.
Platonic follows Sylvia (Rose Byrne) and Will (Seth Rogen), plus the small constellation of people in both their lives, from Sylvia’s three kids and her boring but kind husband Charlie (Luke Macfarlane, very funny here in an understated way) to Will’s often-combative bartender pals (Tre Hale, Andrew Lopez, and viral video star Vinny Thomas, here chronically underused). When the show starts, Sylvia has just spotted an Instagram post indicating that Will – her old friend – got divorced. Years earlier, the pair went their separate ways after Sylvia told Will his wife wasn’t right for him, but now that she’s out of the picture, the mother and lapsed lawyer sees a way back into the friendship.
The first few episodes of Platonic start off a bit bumpy as the show establishes its own tone. Early on, it looks like it might be a clone of the type of Judd Apatow movie that made Rogen famous; a hang-out comedy that leans too heavily on “having kids sucks” comedy and loud-funny arguments between people who seem to hate each other more than they love each other. Platonic does include all these things, but it eventually relaxes into a dynamic between Will and Sylvia that feels more safe than tenuous. Once you’ve found your people (and lost them, and found them again), the show seems to be saying, no amount of petty or serious disagreement can undo the love you’ve built. It’s a sweet idea and one that the series is able to coast on throughout its extremely funny and good-natured first season.
It’s easy to look at the five-hour series and call it a bit narratively shapeless, as I’m sure some folks will. I think, though, that there’s something intentional and surprisingly satisfying about the way the show’s mostly low-stakes peaks and valleys play out. Stoller and Delbanco introduce plot points that would usually be a source of friction in typical male-female comedies, like Will’s younger girlfriend who doesn’t know about Sylvia, a big lie that Sylvia and Will hide from Charlie, and, yes, a climactic fight. Where nearly every other story of its kind would use these plotlines as a jumping-off point to create a whiff of romantic or sexual intrigue between the two leads, though Platonic does the opposite, exploring how the scenarios might really play out within a more stable dynamic. The cumulative effect of the strategy doesn’t hit home until the season’s end when it pays off beautifully.
Mostly, Platonic turns out to be about the ways regression and evolution can go hand in hand. Sylvia is a responsible yet uninspired wife and mother before she reunites with Will, but when she does, his sense of arrested development rubs off on her. Soon, the pair end up in all sorts of outlandish situations, each one more hilarious than the last. Rogen and Byrne are engaging and endearing on their own, but the way they’re able to effortlessly navigate the show’s truly ridiculous (in a good way) scripts is what makes Platonic a must-watch. Whether they’re secreting away a corporate painting to a political artist in hopes of getting a scratch covered up, drunkenly buying a W necklace off a mean pawn shop Doberman, or attending a viewing of a definitely-haunted nursing home for sale, Will and Sylvia are always laugh-out-loud funny people in laugh-out-loud funny situations.
Much of what makes Platonic great lies in what it leaves out of its story; it’s not just a comedy about men and women without a romance plot, but also a comedy about middle age without a surplus of “we’re getting old” jokes and a comedy about making bad choices that doesn’t relish punishing its characters when they do. If you’re wondering what’s left of this story without all those familiar tropes, the answer is simple: a whole lot of fun.
Platonic is currently airing on Apple TV+. Watch the series trailer here.