The idea that the romantic comedy is a genre in decline is at least as old as When Harry Met Sallythe name of the film verified in the first and last episode of the new Apple TV+ series Platonic. When this now-classic tale of friendship blossomed into love for the first time in theaters in the summer of 1989, some critics considered it, in the words of Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, “a pale imitation of Annie Hall.” (from Siskel At the movie theater Training partner Roger Ebert disagreed with a vigorous push.)
Rom-com is hard to pull off now, the argument goes, because the vast shifts in social and sexual behavior since the heyday of the gender-vis-a-vis era make it difficult to find meaningful barriers to the rom-com. union of two consensual adults looking for romance. With divorce, cohabitation, same-sex relationships, the hookup culture enabled by birth control, and other alternatives to heterosexual marriage happily ever after on the table like they weren’t in the Golden Age. of Hollywood, the plausibility of the will-they-or-won’t-the-plot diminishes with its social relevance.
Even romantic comedies that change the gender of the protagonists or otherwise place them in more modern contexts still tend to maintain at least one binary: the one that separates friendship from romantic love. PlatonicIn the pilot episode of Will, a brewer and bar owner played by Seth Rogen, he justifies his post-divorce encounter with longtime friend Sylvia (Rose Byrne) by assuring his business partners Andy (Tre Hale) and Reggie ( Andrew Lopez) that men and women can indeed be friends. Doesn’t When Harry Met Sally prove it? Nah, says Andy: “That’s a bad example. Harry marries Sally. They fuck. “This movie should be called When Harry fucked Sallyconfirms Reggie.
The rest of PlatonicThe 10-episode season is dedicated not to heightening the sexual tension between Will and Sylvia, but to demonstrating the tension their growing non-sexual intimacy creates in the rest of their lives. Sylvia’s husband Charlie (Luke Macfarlane) — not the boredom that usually occupies that spot in the rom-com universe, but a devoted, charming, and knee-melting handsome man — is understandably hurt that energy his wife’s emotionality seems more invested in Will than him, though he believes (after some initial doubts) that the two aren’t doing anything physical. These two former party friends are mutual facilitators, for better and for worse; when they come together, the chaos that tends to ensue is both creative and destructive (although either can be a source of hilarity).
Platonic was co-created by a real married couple: Nicholas Stoller, the director of Forget Sarah Marshall and the Neighbors films, and Francesca Delbanco, the novelist who, with Stoller, created the Netflix series college friends. While it shares a laid-back shagginess with these properties (and other Judd Apatow-produced films in the mid-2000s to which it owes a stylistic debt), it’s a careful and thoughtful piece of work, a conscious attempt to rethink the rules of what could be considered a “domestic comedy”. Rogen and Byrne’s characters aren’t looking to make a home together; in fact, a season-long subplot involves her eagerly participating in a home search for herself and her family. Rather, the show’s conflict hinges on the two finding a new place in the world with the help of each other. Who will she become now that the youngest of her three children is in school full time? How will he recover from a nasty divorce and figure out how to turn his passion for brewing beer into a solvent business?
Platonic makes the day-to-day concerns of these ordinary characters as dramatically engrossing and funny as thanks to the Tracy and Hepburn-level chemistry (or is it Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell?) between its flawlessly cast leads. Rogen and Byrne are true friends who have played their spouses twice in the Neighbors movies. They share a knack for conveying inner vulnerability while exchanging pleasantries and for displaying borderline antisocial behavior without losing public sympathy. As Byrne has pointed out in interviews, the show is basically a buddy comedy. If the pleasure Will and Sylvia took in each other’s company wasn’t as palpable as it is, the questions the show raises about the proper role of friendship in our emotional lives adult would look like abstract debate prompts. Instead, I found myself legitimately asking: Would I justifiably feel annoyed if my partner had a friend as close as Sylvia is to Will? What if I suddenly developed such an intense attachment in my 40s, would I be upset if my family or co-workers deemed the relationship unhealthy?
Platonic is not without flaws. The episodes are only half an hour long, but because there are 10 of them, the series can feel stuffy at times, and a romantic relationship that develops between two supporting characters feels inserted as narrative artifice rather than flowing organically. of the world of the series. As is too often the case in sitcoms about parenting, Sylvia and Charlie’s children never appear as real characters; the day-to-day childcare issues that a stay-at-home mom of three would necessarily face rarely seem to interrupt the flow of her chaotic near-daily misadventures with Will. And, significantly for a show that sets itself the task of reimagining the rom-com, there’s no queer relationship in sight, though Guy Branum does appear in a too-small recurring role as Charlie’s deadpan gay co-worker. The lack of such a script is especially baffling given that last year Stoller co-wrote and directed Brothersa gay romantic comedy starring two of the Platonicthe strongest supporting cast members, Macfarlane and Branum. Would the presence of a queer couple destabilize this show’s premise about whether heterosexual friendships can remain chaste? And if so, in a show that aims to subvert romantic comedy conventions, wouldn’t that be a good thing?
What Platonic is right about the rom-com genre, however, ultimately makes up for the show’s shortcomings. This show understands that, in art as in life, one of the great joys the world has to offer is spending time with someone who truly understands you, sharing fries, jokes and often boring stories, sometimes magical lives. I also appreciated the pragmatism with which the two tracks are presented as potential objects of romantic desire. As recently as Neighbors 2, made seven years ago, Rogen was the butt of a few sight gags that compared his less than toned torso with the much more sculpted abs of the often shirtless frat boy played by Zac Efron. Other movies, knocked up For Zack and Miri make a porn For Long shottook as part of their premise the idea that no woman as sexy as Katherine Heigl or Elizabeth Banks or Charlize Theron would think of someone like Rogen as a potential mate.
Over the course of 10 episodes, as Sylvia’s husband moves from distrust to acceptance of his wife’s bond with his best friend, the disparity in the two friends’ respective degrees of attractiveness is never cited as an argument for or against their meeting. As a fan who had a crush on Rogen for two decades, I finally felt vindicated in my fondness for scruffy, deadpan dudes with normal, unsharpened physiques.
Whether Platonic could be considered a 21st-century back to When Harry Met SallyTo the structuring question (“Can men and women be friends?”), the answer finally provided by the show is suitably equivocal. In the context of middle age, a period of life centered on career and family responsibilities, what does it mean to form an intense new bond with someone? Regardless of the gender or sexuality of those involved, friendship, like love, can be a delicate and heartbreaking affair. In this show’s sad final episode, Will and Sylvia reunite after a period of separation, as a montage recalls the ups and downs of their unromantic “courtship.” The dysfunctional euphoria of that era, it is understood, is now a thing of the past, but the connection the two share is permanent. In the context of a friendship rom-com, it’s as happily ever after as that gets.