A breakup at any point in a relationship is difficult, and it may be much harder for one party to recover. But when a couple has been together for more than a decade, there are some assumptions that have likely been made, and the two may be perceived as an inseparable unit. It’s possible that there might not even be a major catalyst for the end of a relationship, and having spent so much time together makes the separation even more painful. Netflix’s comedy Uncoupled takes a lighthearted look at what it means to move on after the sudden end of a seventeen-year partnership.
Neil Patrick Harris stars as Michael, a real estate broker who throws everything into planning a legendary surprise party for his partner Colin (Tuc Watkins) on his fiftieth birthday. Not wanting to celebrate that big milestone is the least of Michael’s worries, since he has chosen that day to quietly move his stuff out before breaking the news to Michael – just before everyone yells surprise – that he’s leaving. Completely blindsided, Michael is forced to try to pick up the pieces and figure out what it means to be a single gay man in New York City when things have changed considerably since the last time that was true for him.
Though he got his start at a young age on Doogie Howser, M.D., Harris is best known for his Emmy-nominated performance as Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. This role is very different, since Michael and Barney have so little in common, and nice guy Michael could use a dose of Barney’s overconfidence to help him get through something he’s never even imagined enduring. Michael is also far more passive when it comes to his work, eager to help his clients but not into propping up their sky-high expectations and conveying something that he’s not certain he could realistically deliver.
Uncoupled, from Darren Star and Jeffrey Richman, is a fairly typical sitcom, one that, like most series of this era, doesn’t come with a laugh track but could easily have one. The notion of “situation comedy” is definitely applicable here, since each of its eight half-hour episodes offers up a different scenario in which Michael must figure out how to behave, whether it’s a gay ski weekend or attending a friend’s wedding. The formula is unsophisticated, tracking Michael as he tries to do what seems like the right thing only to bungle it all and manage to mostly put it back on track by episode’s end. Some storylines are stronger than others, and one subplot about a demanding client, played by Marcia Gay Harden, is less engaging and endearing than the spotlight on Michael’s personal and romantic life.
Where Uncoupled feels most relatable is in its depiction of Michael’s circle of friends and how they react to the breakup, seeking to support Michael but also, in certain cases, maintaining a connection with the ex since he’s been a part of their lives for nearly two decades. They’re loyal but also push Michael to “get back out there” or to figure out what he needs and not stay hung up on the man who exerts a tremendous amount of power over him even after he’s left. The standouts in the cast are Brooks Ashmanskas as dramatic art connoisseur Stanley and Tisha Campbell as his business partner, who has her own complicated relationship with romance due to her status as a single parent to a teenage son.
Audiences’ enjoyment of Uncoupled will depend largely on their enthusiasm for its star, since Harris takes up most of the screentime and his character often needs a forceful push to get him out of his head. It’s nice to see three-dimensional adult gay characters and relationships portrayed on a streaming service like Netflix, played by mostly gay actors, and there’s nothing particularly R-rated about a show that, some language and innuendo aside, is mostly friendly for all ages. Harris seems like a bankable enough star to make this harmless, light show a success.
All eight episodes of Uncoupled premiere on Netflix on Friday, July 29th.