‘Platonic’ Shows Midlife Crises, Millennial-Style (REVIEW)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s classic rom-com When Harry Met Sally gets name-checked almost immediately in the pilot of Platonic. In husband/wife duo Nicholas Stoller and Francesca Delbanco’s new Apple TV+ series, old friends Will (Seth Rogen) and Sylvia (Rose Byrne) reconnect after a falling-out. Will and Sylvia used to be besties, but Sylvia put her foot in it when she bad-mouthed Will’s wife. When Sylvia hears through the grapevine that Will got divorced, she wonders if it’s finally safe to reach out to him again after years of estrangement.

Platonic focuses on a friendship between two people of different genders, but the show isn’t that concerned with whether men and women can be just friends. Byrne and Rogen have an immediate comedic rapport, but their chemistry here doesn’t read as overwhelmingly sexual. While self-consciously styling itself as an anti-rom-com, Platonic fires on all cylinders as a pure buddy comedy. These buddies, however, are a supremely chaotic pair. The question of whether Will and Sylvia can be friends has little to do with their gender. Instead, Platonic asks if it’s possible (or advisable) to keep your messy friends around after you’ve moved on to a more “respectable” phase of your life.

Seth Rogen as Will and Rose Byrne as Sylvia in Platonic (COURTESY: Apple TV+)

Blessedly, both Will and Sylvia are the “messy friend.” They gravitate back towards each other because they’re both adrift, facing crossroads in their lives, and struggling to adjust as they hit midlife. The freshly-divorced Will co-owns a craft brewery and bar in the Arts District of L.A. He constantly fights with his partners over the direction of the business. They want to make more money, but he wants to preserve the creative integrity of their production. He drinks too much—which he defends as a professional hazard—and dates twenty-somethings. Sylvia feels increasingly invisible, having dropped out of the workforce thirteen years ago to raise her three kids. As her youngest starts kindergarten, Sylvia finds herself facing empty days and an existential crisis. She feels like a disaster and eventually starts acting like one, much to her husband’s confusion.

Will and Sylvia find refuge in each other’s company because they can be unhinged and irresponsible together. On occasion, they indulge each other’s worst impulses. But they are also, crucially, the same age. The show isn’t an exploration of extended adolescence or the refusal of adulthood—a perennial millennial cliché. Will and Sylvia are in their forties, established, and adults in every sense of the word. This awareness, maturity, and perspective give Platonic its edge.

It also makes Platonic feel thoroughly millennial, for better or worse. The aesthetics of the show harken back to the 2010s at every turn. In and of itself, the L.A.-set, raunchy anti-rom-com TV show feels like a throwback. Platonic recalls shows like Netflix’s Love and FX’s You’re the Worst, although Stoller and Delbanco’s show feels a bit mellowed and gentler. (Platonic is less insufferable than Love but never as brilliant as You’re the Worst.) Sylvia rocks the ombré-highlighted, beach-waved lob beloved by elder millennial women everywhere. Her wardrobe looks like it was lifted wholesale from a Madewell store. Will unironically asserts that he’s cool for owning a beer bar in a gentrified urban neighborhood. Still, gentrification has never been cool, and craft beer hasn’t been trendy since Obama was in office. There’s a fun needle drop at the end of one episode.

Rose Byrne as Sylvia and Seth Rogen as Will in Platonic (COURTESY: Apple TV+)

All of this feels appropriate to our main characters, but it gives the show a distinctly uncool air. This mostly works until the moments when it’s not clear that the show knows it’s uncool. There’s a tasteless, out-of-touch Shia LaBeouf joke in the pilot. Another episode made me wonder if a 25-year-old would say YOLO. For the most part, though, the writers seem content to claim millennial cringe as the new milieu of upper-middle class, white middle age.

Byrne and Rogen carry the show, both giving dynamic and hilarious performances. The two actors shine in their scenes together, and they play off of one another in unexpected ways. Rogen brings nuance to what could easily be a been-there-done-that type of divorced man character. Will’s life may be in disarray, but he’s not a sad sack. And, while he’s not ambitious in how his business partners want him to be, he’s not a slacker. He’s a passionate, talented brewer with a strong work ethic. Rogen holds this tension perfectly in his performance. He wisely veers away from the man-child characterization and towards something more likable and real.

Byrne, meanwhile, taps into a former-Cool-Girl spirit that electrifies her character. The actress totally sells that Sylvia used to hang with the boys and party, and she savvily navigates the contradictions of the aging Cool Girl. On the one hand, there’s a relief that comes with not having to perform chillness. In one episode, Sylvia finally tells Will that she used to hate going to the strip club with him and his male friends. But on the other hand, it’s clear that some authentic part of Sylvia has died as she’s been forced to lose the wilder parts of herself as she’s aged. As Sylvia regresses, Byrne beautifully communicates the freedom this brings Sylvia as well as the discomfort. Sylvia doesn’t exactly slot back into the role she used to occupy in her twenties, and she’s not really sure she wants to.

Luke Macfarlane as Charlie and Rose Byrne as Sylvia in Platonic (COURTESY: Apple TV+)

As the show’s scope expands, making room for supporting characters, Platonic only becomes more enjoyable. Some supporting characters, like Sylvia’s mom-friend Katie (Carla Gallo), never rise above the one-note. Others, like Will’s co-worker Omar (Vinny Thomas) and Sylvia’s husband Charlie (Luke Macfarlane), emerge as comedic standouts. Macfarlane, who previously worked with Stoller on last year’s Bros, brings what I can only describe as John Cena energy to his role as Sylvia’s sweet, beefy-but-dim lawyer husband. He had me in tears of laughter during his spotlight episode, “My Wife’s Boyfriend.”

And Platonic, for all its perceptive, emotional insights into middle-aged dissatisfaction, is quite funny. The writing gets sharper as the series progresses, and the show finds its groove. It’s disappointing that Platonic ultimately fails to commit to being a TV show. The final episode’s conclusion left me wondering if there will be a second season at all. When busy movie stars are attached, I suppose it’s easy for showrunners to feel insecure about the longevity of their project. But the writers chose to close this season in such a way that almost precludes a second season, which bummed me out. Because season one of Platonic is ultimately pretty delightful.

Rating: 8/10

Like this article?

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Related Posts