In 'Uncoupled,' Neil Patrick Harris gets dumped, but Carries on
Describing the new Netflix comedy series Uncoupled as "Sex and the City, but gay" makes about as much sense as describing something as "Entourage, but straight." Sex and the City, created by Uncoupled co-creator Darren Star, was famously the Golden Girls of its era — a series ostensibly centering women whom the writers were clearly coding as gay men.
Besides, the much more apt comparison is to the SatC sequel series And Just Like That, which found Carrie and her cohorts deep in the throes of middle age as they attempted to navigate sex and romance in amazing Manhattan apartments, private clubs, art galleries and bars that serve $25 martinis.
That's the vibe of the breezy Uncoupled, which finds well-heeled, middle-aged Manhattan real estate agent Michael (Neil Patrick Harris) blindsided when his partner of 17 years (Tuc Watkins) dumps him.
He's crestfallen, yes, but the chief hurdles the series struggles to clear is how difficult it becomes to root for the embittered Michael as he whines to his friends in those aforementioned apartments and clubs and galleries and bars with $25 Negronis.
Cry me a river view, Michael.
But the SatC/AJLT comparison is useful here, too — because like those two shows, Uncoupled features a main character who's kind of a pill, surrounded by secondary characters who are a hell of a lot more interesting and fun to hang out with.
As Michael's fellow realtor Suzanne, Tisha Campbell steps into the role of sidekick and promptly busts down its walls, inhabiting a wildly charismatic character whose dimensions the writers only begin to reckon with towards the end of the season. Conversely, Marcia Gay Harden takes a broadly written part — that of a haughty, newly divorced Lady who Lunches who bonds with Michael — and finds within it a series of small, specific emotional beats to play.
Michael's gay friends, horny local weatherman Billy (Emerson Brooks) and lonely art gallery owner Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas) are supportive of Michael, just as Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte were by spending all those long lunches dutifully nodding along as Carrie lamented her love life. But the support goes only so far, thankfully. Billy and especially Stanley get to be much shadier to Michael than Samantha & co. ever were to Carrie; it's here that Ashmanskas' deft deployment of some truly withering one-liners turns him into the series' stealth MVP.
Harris, and the series itself, is at its best in such moments, when Michael's unexamined privilege is brought up short and examined, howsoever fleetingly. In one scene, he terminates a hookup with a hot younger guy because the kid doesn't know what the AIDS quilt is. Michael lectures the kid about how he and other gay men made sacrifices for the sake of callow millennials, then adds "Well, not me. A little bit older. But I've seen Angels!"
Uncoupled goes down easy — unlike its judgy protagonist — and makes for an frictionless weekend binge. If its focus on privileged middle-agers rankles, you'll likely prefer HBO Max's The Other Two, which is sharper and funnier and focuses on younger people who are still struggling. If its centering of cis white gay men makes it seem like a cultural throwback, try the new Queer as Folk on Peacock, which has figured out how to get more voices into the mix in ways that broaden the stories being told and bring its characters' differences into sharper relief.
But if you like your frothy gay sex comedy served with a side of real estate porn, you could do worse than Uncoupled. And forgive yourself if, in any given scene, you find your attention drifting away from Michael's sexy hijinks and onto his apartment's layout.
It's telling, I think, that at one point my husband and I found ourselves growing frustrated with the show for some reason we couldn't place, until we realized that every time we see Marcia Gay Harden's character's apartment, it's from the exact same angle.
"Just show us the damn kitchen already," we muttered, nearly in unison.
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