LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
Breaking up is hard to do, especially in middle age after 17 years together. That's the subject of the new Netflix comedy series "Uncoupled," about a man whose partner leaves him single at a time when he never, ever thought he would be.
GLEN WELDON, HOST:
Starring Neil Patrick Harris, "Uncoupled" comes from Darren Star, the prolific producer behind "Sex And The City," and Jeff Richman, who worked on "Modern Family" and "Frasier." They bring that experience to this new story about being gay and middle-aged and suddenly single. I'm Glen Weldon.
HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today we're talking about "Uncoupled" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HOLMES: It's just the two of us today. As we mentioned, "Uncoupled" comes from Darren Star, who's one of those mega producers whose work goes back to not just "Sex And The City" but also "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place." Jeffrey Richman brings experience from "Modern Family," "Frasier," "Desperate Housewives," lots of other shows. As for the star, Neil Patrick Harris, it's been eight years since the end of his run on "How I Met Your Mother," but he returns here as a comedy lead with a bunch of friends who hang out and talk about their love lives. Michael, Harris's character, is a big-money real estate agent in New York who has it all until the day his partner of 17 years bails on him. And now he's very single and very much adrift.
The supporting cast includes Tuc Watkins as his partner, Colin, Tisha Campbell as his business associate Suzanne, Marcia Gay Harden as Claire, a client he's trying to land, and Brooks Ashmanskas and Emerson Brooks as a couple of his friends. There's a lot that does feel very "Sex And The City" and very "How I Met Your Mother" about this show, plus some things that feel a little different, as the action now involves not a young singleton but a person who hasn't been single in almost 20 years. This is streaming now on Netflix. Glen, what did you think about this one?
WELDON: I mean, this is comfort food. This goes down real easy, unlike its main character. Look. A lot of comparisons are being made here to "Sex And The City," but I think this is much more and just like that because you've got rich, middle-aged characters who are navigating sex and romance in these amazing apartments and private clubs and art galleries and bars that serve $25 martinis. But the comparison doesn't end there because you've also got a main character who's kind of a pill surrounded by other characters who are just a lot more fun to be around. Without Tisha Campbell, without Brooks Ashmanskas, who I think is, for my money, the MVP here...
WELDON: ...Without Marcia Gay Harden, this show doesn't work. And it's not that I have anything against NPH, but I find Michael kind of irritating. But in those moments when it's clearest to me that the writers know how to write him, I think he can be very, very funny. There's one scene in episode five where he's hooking up with a hot younger guy who doesn't use condoms because he's on PrEP. And NPH's character, Michael, is horrified that this kid has never heard of the AIDS quilt.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNCOUPLED")
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: (As Michael Lawson) Oh, my God. You millennials - don't you know where we came from? Where you got your freedoms? Don't you know what people like me - well, not me, a little bit older, but, I mean, I've seen "Angels." Don't you know what we sacrificed for you?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You know what I do know?
WELDON: See - that's the show firing on all cylinders right there. That's the show finding its tone.
WELDON: Calling Michael out on his unearned and kind of whiny judginess. Now, later on, it gets much broader. There's drunken shenanigans in hot tubs. But when it's riding that line, that's when it works best for me.
HOLMES: When I liked it best was when it felt like these writers were finally sort of getting to write with specificity about the sort of gay dating process more than they have in some of their other projects that they've done. And that moment, talking about PrEP - and like on the one hand, it is really a sharply observed moment about different expectations about sex. But on the other hand, it does turn very quickly to Michael sort of positioning himself, like you said, with this unearned judginess. It's interesting because I agree with you. I think Michael can be a very irritating character at times. But that's Darren Star. You know, that's the...
WELDON: Yeah. That's it.
HOLMES: ...That's "Sex And The City." That's also the characters on "Modern Family." These are people - these have always been people who ride a line between privileged, wealthy, funny, lovable person and privileged, spoiled, you have no idea what's going on in the world person. I did think that was what worked the best. But I agree with you that, like, it's really funny because Brooks Ashmanskas, who is so good in this, is not somebody that I particularly knew well because I didn't see "The Prom" on Broadway. And you did. And he was in "The Prom." But I saw him just recently - he does the voice of Gore Vidal in the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward documentary that Ethan Hawke made. So I...
WELDON: That's perfect casting.
HOLMES: Yeah. And so I saw him in that, and I had watched this first. And I saw him in that, and I was like, wait a minute. I just saw that guy and I just noted how great he was in "Uncoupled." I agree with you that I think he's my MVP here, although I also really loved seeing Tisha Campbell kind of get this really, I think, really kind of fun, funny - it's central to the portrait of Michael. Marcia Gay Harden, in a way, is doing a role that I think she can do in her sleep, probably...
HOLMES: ...But she doesn't, right? Because she's a pro. So she doesn't do it in her sleep, you know? What do you think about the kind of the real estate shenanigans with him and Tisha Campbell and Marcia Gay Harden?
WELDON: Well, that's it. This is such an easy weekend binge, largely on the back of the real estate porn alone. So I think if your attention wanders to focus on the apartment layouts instead of the characters, I think just forgive yourself, because...
WELDON: ...I do think it's telling that my husband and I grew frustrated because every time we saw Marcia Gay Harden's apartment, it was from the same angle. And we were like, will you just show us the damn kitchen already?
HOLMES: Yeah. We want to see more.
WELDON: I mean, that's kind of telling.
WELDON: That's kind of telling, right? Yeah.
WELDON: Look. This is not the only queer content, this kind of thing, out there right now, and that's good.
HOLMES: Of course.
WELDON: Like, if you want something sharper and funnier that's about people struggling, that's "The Other Two." If you want more voices, a show that's really attempting and, I think, succeeding to admit more voices, more queer voices, and is really challenging itself to find ways to bring those voices together, that's "Queer As Folk" over on Peacock. This is definitely a throwback. This feels more like old school "Queer As Folk." But yeah, it's this - and, again, I think Tisha Campbell will get more to do as the season goes on, and they learn how to write for her, which makes me just look forward to a season two with her.
HOLMES: Yeah. The other thing I wanted to talk to you about, the thing I was curious about when I saw this the first time is - you know, we've had several conversations about different kinds of particularly YA content for queer kids, you know, the idea of representation of queer characters being kind of desexed. And I think over the course of history, that's been true even with adult shows sometimes. I mean, and that - again, it's really funny to think about the fact that Darren Star was involved in "Melrose Place," which is sort of very famous for having...
HOLMES: ...A gay character who never got to kiss anyone. And it's interesting to me. Like, this is not desexed. There's plenty of sex in this show.
WELDON: No, absolutely. There's Botox jokes that you couldn't - probably couldn't have gotten on air, even on streaming air, even five years ago.
WELDON: Yeah. And I like that it's frankly sexual. I mean, it is, like, as you say - it's like "Sex And The City" without the coding, right? We don't have to code anymore. We don't have to filter everything as if these gay men are women. No, this is gay men and gay men. And, to that end, I have a question for you. I got the sense that when you saw the core four of "Sex And The City" together, they were always supporting each other. I mean, they'd get a few digs in, but that wasn't the engine of the show. Am I correct?
HOLMES: I think for the most part, they were, you know - there were times when they would have rifts over various things. But, yes, I think it was a purer idea of, like, everybody supporting each other than anything else.
WELDON: OK, because here, I mean, as much as I like seeing the sex being frankly dealt with, I also like that these friends are shadier to each other.
HOLMES: They are.
WELDON: I think that's accurate. I think that allows Brooks Ashmanskas to get off some of the best one-liners. And I also think, you know, ostensibly he, I guess you could say, is the Charlotte because he's the one who sometimes sits in judgment of others. But you never have that problem that "Sex And The City" has, which is, why is anyone friends with Charlotte? You get why you'd be friends with the Brooks Ashmanskas character.
HOLMES: In some ways, it makes it more believable because they all have their own, you know, things that might make them irritating to others. I kind of like the fact that they're able to be shadier to each other. They're able to kind of call each other out quite a bit on various things that they do. But at the same time, there is great loyalty, right?
HOLMES: ...Among this group of guys. And in some ways, one of the complications for them is that the circles that they run in continue to involve Michael's partner. And so that was another thing about the show that I appreciated was sort of trying to navigate how the friends are supposed to work around the former partner, you know?
WELDON: Yeah, absolutely. That's a legit issue in breakups like this, and that - I liked seeing it deal with that. There were some moments of - kind of heightened in absurdity.
WELDON: But, like, when it came to that, it honored the dilemma that it presented.
WELDON: And I also think that the journey that the show has the Michael character go on towards self-determination is a good one. I think the show has its heart in the right place when it comes to him. I think it also knows that, you know, when Michael at one point gets a dressing-down from this drag queen, it knows that we at home are going to be nodding our head vigorously at that moment because the drag queen is right...
WELDON: ...In most things. In all things...
WELDON: ...Drag queens are right.
HOLMES: I will say the brutality of the way that the breakup happens to him...
HOLMES: ...Is one of those things where - because it really does for him come out of nowhere. I sort of like the fact that they don't suddenly have a big fight and a big breakup and then sort of - now I'm single. They spend a couple of episodes sort of working through the very messy - not just being uncoupled, but the uncoupling is messy. Oh, gosh. I found it...
HOLMES: ...So terrifying (laughter).
WELDON: And the precise nature of the breakup is a big, kind of farcical, over-the-top thing. And yet its repercussions are not. And that's what I really like because you get moments of heightened humor, but you also get those moments, as you mentioned, of loyalty and intimacy that play out really well. As I say, this is not breaking any ground.
WELDON: But this is really competently, really well-executed in what it sets out to do.
HOLMES: Yeah. I think in a lot of ways, we talk sometimes about how, you know, representation, among other things, can mean everybody should have a good supply of B-plus TV.
HOLMES: And I - you know, that was sort of how I reacted to this. And honestly, I think - I've seen a lot of "Sex And The City," but I'm not a big "Sex And The City" fan. What I said - the first thing I told people about this after I watched it was I liked it significantly more than I expected to. I would say from the standpoint of his performance, from the standpoint of what I expected from the creators, from the standpoint of the fact that one of the other recent things that Darren Star has done is "Emily In Paris," I liked it significantly more than I expected to. That is my quote coming out of this.
WELDON: Right. This notably does not suffer from the "Emily In Paris" problem where everybody finds her wonderful and scintillating and great.
WELDON: I mean, there's - again, the ability of these gay friends and Tisha Campbell, frankly, to call him out when he needs to be called out is a very important kind of release valve on this series that I think it needs.
HOLMES: Yeah. And he hooks up with a lot of people but, like, not necessarily in a way that implies he's the most popular guy at any party.
WELDON: No. Sure.
HOLMES: I think that guy out on the market would do OK, and I think that's a fair thing to portray. But it's not like he walks into parties and everyone goes, (gasping), like, you know, the "Emily In Paris."
HOLMES: Anyway, well, as we mentioned, "Uncoupled" is streaming on Netflix. We want to know what you think about it. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Glen Weldon, it's always good to talk to you, buddy. Thanks for being here.
WELDON: And you, too. Thank you.
HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. This episode was produced by Taylor Washington and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music, which Glen is bobbing his head to right now. I'm Linda Holmes.
WELDON: Lies, lies, lies.
HOLMES: (Laughter). I'm Linda Holmes. And we'll see you all tomorrow, when we will be talking about - ooh - Beyonce's new album, "Renaissance."
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