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'Platonic' is more full-circle friendship than love triangle, and it's better that way

Will (Seth Rogen) and Sylvia (Rose Byrne) rekindle their best-friendship in midlife in the new Apple TV+ show <em>Platonic</em>. <em>Harry Met Sally</em> vibes aside, this show is too busy having good, goofy fun to bother focusing on will they/won't they.
Apple TV+
Will (Seth Rogen) and Sylvia (Rose Byrne) rekindle their best-friendship in midlife in the new Apple TV+ show Platonic. Harry Met Sally vibes aside, this show is too busy having good, goofy fun to bother focusing on will they/won't they.

Some of Seth Rogen's best chemistry with women has bloomed in properties that pair him with someone whose vibes are, or can be rendered as, vaguely patrician. Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, Charlize Theron in Long Shot, and Michelle Williams twice, in Take This Waltz and The Fabelmans. And now Rose Byrne twice — or thrice, in Neighbors/Neighbors 2 and the new Apple series Platonic, created by Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller, who previously teamed on Friends from College.

In Platonic, Rogen plays Will, a brewpub owner and beer genius who long ago had a falling-out with his best friend Sylvia, played by Byrne. Sylvia took exception to the woman Will wanted to marry, and they fell out of touch. But now that he's divorced, they break their years-long silence and start hanging out again. Will is a spirited and bar-oriented guy who is approaching middle age with the questionable help of his friends — business partners Andy (Tre Hale) and Reggie (Andrew Lopez), and employee Omar (Vinny Thomas). Sylvia, on the other hand, is a stay-at-home mom (having left a legal career) with three kids and an adoring if slightly stiff husband Charlie.

Luke Macfarlane as Sylvia's husband Charlie.
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Apple TV+
Luke Macfarlane as Sylvia's husband Charlie.

(Charlie is played by Luke Macfarlane, the co-lead of Brosas well as a goodly number of Hallmark movies, who is one of our current masters of bringing shape, personality and warmth to what could be thankless roles of lovable boyfriends and husbands.) The renewal of their friendship is bumpy and complicated, but also, in some ways, exactly what they need.

Elements of Platonic, including the title, suggest that perhaps it's a love-triangle story about the threat that a relationship that is supposedly scrupulously platonic presents to a mature marriage, but it's hardly that at all. It does explore some thorny questions about the emotional real estate that close friends can occupy in the lives of married people, and about how the confidences shared with friends and with partners are different. What it doesn't do is tease much in the way of romantic or sexual chemistry between Will and Sylvia. What they are to each other is complicated, but not quite like that.

Still, while it certainly has emotional ideas that it's playing with, Platonic is mostly happy to be its truest self: a broadly goofy comedy in which a lot of really game actors have a lot of fun. Yes, it's about the ennui of middle age, and yes, it's about aspects of intimacy, but a lot of it is also about things like ... a group of drunk friends going out in the street in the middle of the night to hurl electric scooters like it's an Olympic event. Or an accidental act of property damage that leads to a long night of desperate searching for help that takes characters to weird corners of their personal and professional communities.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in <em>Platonic.</em>
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Apple TV+
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in Platonic.

The supporting cast shows up in spades: not just the brewpub friends, but strong turns from Carla Gallo as Sylvia's friend Katie, Janet Varney as Charlie's colleague Vanessa, and Guy Branum as Charlie's work friend Stuart. (Full disclosure: Branum is a friend to both me and the PCHH podcast, so you don't have to take my word for it, but his particular take on a husband's work friend is marvelously specific and fresh.)

There's nothing wrong with a high-concept comedy or dramedy, or with a great show that mines its laughs from the same parts of life that horror and misery come from: your Only Murders in the Building, yourBarry,and your many lesser imitators that have gone for "black comedy" and landed on "non-comedy." But alongside the sparkling Abbott Elementaryand some other nice network efforts, what a pleasure to see this team deliver a sturdy vehicle for jokes, for physical comedy, for silliness both familiar and less so, and for Rogen's wackiness to perhaps be turned down 10 percent and Byrne's turned up 10 percent, so that they meet in the middle, less opposites than complements.

This piece also appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.