Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen reteam for a fun, but uneven AppleTV+ series about friends who may bring out the worst in each other.
As a group, humanity has spent entirely too much time asking, “Can men and women ever be friends without sex getting in the way.” Thankfully, Platonic, by creators Nicholas Stoller and Francesca Delbanco, asks a different, perhaps more germane question. “Can women and men be friends without ruining each others’ lives?”
Sylvia (Rose Byrne) and Will (Seth Rogen) are the test cases. Best friends from college, the two drifted apart after Will married a woman, Audrey (Alisha Wainwright), whom Sylvia could not conceal her distaste for. When she learns Will’s now divorced, she reaches out. Despite both’s seeming ambivalence about reconnecting, they quickly fall into old patterns and are soon thick as thieves once more. But theirs is a volatile friendship that often leads to them fighting. Worse for everyone else in their lives, it proves difficult for others to penetrate, including Sylvia’s husband Charlie (Luke Macfarlane), who refers to Will as his wife’s boyfriend with his work friends.
Thankfully, that difficulty doesn’t extend to the on-screen chemistry. Rogen and Byrne have already proven excellent comedy partners in the Neighbors films (directed by Stoller). The change from playing married to best friends doesn’t dampen that. Instead, it seems to give them permission to both be a bit more unhinged, a bit sharper, in their interactions. But they also spark with their co-stars. One of the series’ best episodes sees Rogen tagging along with Macfarlane to attend a Dodgers game with the rest of Charlie’s firm. Besides playing well off Macfarlane, the episode includes Guy Branum as Charlie’s co-worker Stewart. The trio is delightful together. The dynamic only improves as the episode adds further people, including Will’s brewery co-workers and a late-arriving Byrne.
Other co-stars who click with the series include Carla Gallo as Sylvia’s stay-at-home mom friend Katie, Tre Hale as Will’s co-worker Andy, and Janet Varney as an overachieving law school classmate of Charlie and Sylia’s. Both Stoller and Delbanco have a history of making supporting ensembles deliver on both TV and in film, and they do that again here too. It’s the rare two-hander where you want to spend more time with the supporting cast without resenting the leads.
A binge might make you miserable, but watching week to week is not entirely different from dropping in on your one wild friend from college who still goes as hard and silly as ever.
Where the show flounders in its concept of what it means to be an adult. Stoller showed some Apatowian leanings in Bros regarding growing up and relationships, but given Judd Apatow was a producer on that, one could perhaps attribute it to him. Here, however, it is clear that Stoller shares some of that perspective. The series is likely right regarding the 40-something Will dating a 25-year-old Peyton (Emily Kimball). Unfortunately, it seems overly quick to judge his job and fashion. Similarly, Platonic’s approach to Sylvia’s return to work after years of being a stay-at-home mom feels strange, as though arguing she can’t possibly be an attorney any longer despite her training and years of helping her husband on his cases. As a result, the middle section of the series sags a bit in trying to convince us these characters need to be more adult.
The ending feels good enough that you can forget some of the steps it took to get there. Still, there are even moments in the climax that feel like an assertion of “this is what you do” didacticism. In particular, there’s a moment when the best friends swap each other for the other’s partner. Thus, it becomes a woman talking to a woman and a man talking to a man. And about wedding stuff, besides.
It’s frustrating because it obscures a bigger, more exciting idea that Sylvia and Will are great friends to each other, but spending too much time together makes both of their lives worse. This, too, traffics in the Apatowian idea that adults must leave childish things behind. In some ways, it is similar to how Rogen needs to move out of the house he shares with his nudity-obsessed friends in Knocked Up. However, the friendship’s context and mixed-gender makeup make it more interesting and complex.
Platonic does frustrate. It’s never as funny as one would like and a bit too norm-affirming. Thankfully, Byrne, Rogen, and their talented group of supporting actors excuse plenty. A binge might make you miserable, but watching week to week is not entirely different from dropping in on your one wild friend from college who still goes as hard and silly as ever.
Platonic makes friends on AppleTV+ beginning on May 24.