Can a man and woman be friends without their relationship turning sexual? The question is posed in the first few minutes of “Platonic,” Apple TV+’s 10-half-hour-episode comedy about estranged friends from college, Will (Seth Rogen) and Sylvia (Rose Byrne), who reconnect at a precarious time in their lives. He’s going through a divorce. She’s questioning her marriage and her role as a mother of three. Both are edging toward a midlife crisis.
When Will tells his buddies that Sylvia’s back in the picture, the men debate the implausibility of a platonic male-female friendship, and soon the conversation shifts to the 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally.” The movie, they argue, is more proof that it’s impossible to keep things nonsexual — especially if she’s hot. And in the tradition of every other buddy romance since Meg Ryan’s orgasmic screams in that deli, the series mines laughs in the “will they or won’t they” tension — it’s just that this time, it’s aging millennials at the center of the story.
Calling attention to the 1989 film that this series echoes doesn’t stop “Platonic” from feeling like a throwback, and not in a welcome, nostalgic sort of way. Though it openly plays with the tropes and cliches of 20th century romantic comedies — wives lamenting the boring task of sex with their husband, married folks looking hopelessly out of place at hip bars, dumpy dudes landing impossibly hot women — the series doesn’t do enough to revise the formula.
This series from co-creators Nick Stoller and Francesca Delbanco is set in present-day Los Angeles, where Will is a brewmaster at a popular bar downtown that he co-owns with his friend, Andy (Tre Hale), and his ex-wife’s stepbrother, Reggie (Andrew Lopez). He’s a man-child of sorts — dyed hair and all. Sylvia is a Culver City stay-at-home mom whose life is a series of school pick-ups and drop-offs. She gave up a career in law to raise her three kids, and placate her super straight-laced hubby, Charlie (Luke Macfarlane), but once she reunites with Will, he forces her to look at what a normie she’s become. She reminds him that he isn’t acting his age, and she has a point. The bleach-blond hair and clogs with socks do make him look like “a ’90s grunge clown.” And the two old friends proceed to stoke their collective, self-destructive tendencies, within their relationship and those outside of it.
“Platonic” is Byrne and Rogen’s first television collaboration (they are also executive producers), and the first time they’ve joined forces since they starred in the film “Neighbors.” The chemistry between these stars is the only reason to watch this show. They communicate in an almost telepathic fashion, finishing each others sentences. “Platonic” will likely resonate with fans of Byrne and Rogen who would probably be willing to overlook the other pitfalls of this series.
There’s an improvisational quality to their scenes together as Will and Sylvia, and there’s some true hilarity in the way they portray their all-consuming relationship. They make each other laugh and infuriate one another, strengthening their bond while alienating those around them, including their friends and partners .
Beyond the draw of its main stars, “Platonic” is a middling comedy with plenty of the same gags you’ve seen before. Rogan plays an annoying brat, proving his edge by pushing over e-scooters and wearing wacky hats. Byrne’s character contends with family movie night, where no one wants to watch the same thing, and overflowing toilets at home. There’s so much more that could have been done to upgrade this comedy from mildly charming to sharp, but as is, it’s a trip down memory lane with Harry and Sally, just 40 years later, and the jokes have worn thin.