The Spool / Reviews
Still Up captures some of the magic and anguish of insomnia but loses itself in cliched friends’ romance
AppleTV+’s newest comedy has heart and wit, but can’t resist tired will they/won’t they plotting.
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AppleTV+’s newest comedy has heart and wit, but can’t resist tired will they/won’t they plotting.

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Night owls and insomniacs will tell you it’s special being awake while most of your family, friends, and community slumber. How sometimes weightless and creative you can feel when everyone else strives for that healthy rest. They’ll also often tell you how lonely and frustrating it can be. Wandering your home or the world outside all alone because their bodies’ circadian rhythm actually makes sense.

For the most part, the Steven Burge-Natalie Walker-created Still Up focuses more on the former than the latter as best friends Lisa (Antonia Thomas) and Danny (Craig Roberts) spend their nights together from afar. Or across town, at least.

That’s not to say Burge, Walker, and additional writer Bryce Hart don’t shoot Still Up through with a distinct variety of melancholy. It’s just more connected to other aspects of the characters’ lives. For Lisa, her romance with well-meaning runner Veggie (Blake Harrison) is cooling. He connects it to her sleep-wake cycle, insisting, “You don’t know what it’s like to see your partner come alive just as you go to bed.” The audience, though, can quickly see there’s plenty more in the way of their happiness than her insomnia.

Still Up (AppleTV+)
Antonia Thomas has been up all night. She might sleep all day. (AppleTV+)

Danny’s isolation, on the other hand, comes from his agoraphobia. Ever since his last relationship, he has struggled to even step into his hallway, leaving him to rely on Lisa and his incredibly understanding neighbor Adam (Luke Fetherston) to go out into the world on his behalf, literally and vicariously. It also leaves him as easy prey for his cat-loving, strange, but admittedly friendly neighbor (Rich Fulcher).

The season has a definite episodic structure initially. Lisa is either forced or willingly goes out on some late-night adventure around their city while Danny remains at home, struggling with some usually odd problem that threatens to push him outside his front door. Their phones act as lifelines between them, but are they keeping each other on track and afloat or dragging one another down?

As the series progresses, the seemingly disconnected installments reveal themselves to be at least partially serialized. Seemingly one-off characters pop up in new, unexpected places or return to prove themselves far more critical than initially suggested. Storylines and themes begin to form.

the same sense of eavesdropping on two people with a bone-deep knowledge of each other shooting the proverbial shit.

Unfortunately, one of those storylines involves a mutual longing between two friends, each unaware of how the other desires them. The consequences of this trope include one person developing comical icks, which nearly sink their late in the series return to less cartoony characterization. Another seemingly ditches all the progress they’d made in an underwhelming climax.

Ignoring that disappointing development, though, Still Up has a loose, ramshackle appeal befitting its late-night setting. The humor is rarely laugh-out-loud funny but is frequently, reliably chuckle-worthy. There’s a hushed quality that invites in the audience and metaphorically offers them a warm drink and a nice place to sit. The lighting is a secret weapon in capturing the sense of late night, as well. It gives both the dim comfort of an apartment after 10 pm (or 22:00, to respect the show) and the sharp, almost painful fluorescents of street lamps and interior bus overheads.

Like Platonic earlier this year, there’s something undeniably charming about the bond between Danny and Lisa, even if it frequently brings out some bad behaviors. They’re not nearly as big or loud as their American counterparts from that series, but there’s the same sense of eavesdropping on two people with a bone-deep knowledge of each other shooting the proverbial shit. When the show lives in that place, it is delightful comfort television. When it reaches for unrequited romance, though, it becomes paper thin.

Still Up desperately flushes the pillows on AppleTV+ beginning September 22.

Still Up Trailer: