TV | May 24, 2023 6:46 am

‘Platonic’ with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne Is Long Overdue, But Is It Any Good?

"Platonic" dares to remind us that men and women can be friends, but it still relies on some tired gender stereotypes

Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in "Platonic"
Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in "Platonic"
Apple TV+

Warning: this post contains mild spoilers for season one of Platonic.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: this is not your typical “will-they-or-won’t-they” story. Platonic — which stars Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as Will and Sylvia, two old college buddies who reconnect after years apart — makes it clear from the get-go that they won’t. It’s right there in the name!

And yet even if the show, which premieres on Apple TV+ today, were called Seriously, We Promise You That These Two People Have Zero Desire to Sleep With Each Other, there would still be questions from people who remain unable to comprehend that a straight man and a straight woman could possibly have a genuine friendship without eventually developing romantic feelings for one another.

Of course, those people need to wake up and join the rest of us in 2023. As we mentioned in our review of the groundbreaking platonic rom-com Together Together, “It’s ridiculous to think that one’s genitalia should dictate who they’re friends with. For one, it reeks of heteronormativity; there are plenty of women who aren’t interested in sleeping with men and men who aren’t interested in sleeping with women, and they’re more than capable of being platonic friends with whatever gender they happen to be attracted to. What are bisexual or pansexual people supposed to do, just not be friends with anyone?”.

And yet, in some ways, it’s easy to understand why they feel that way; there have been countless When Harry Met Sally ripoffs over the years reinforcing the idea that any man and woman who are close friends will eventually give in to their natural urges and fall in love with each other. How many movies or TV shows can you name where they just…stay friends?

Hollywood Has Finally Decided That Men and Women Can Be Friends

"Together Together" is a quietly groundbreaking rom-com centered around a man and a woman with no interest in having sex with each other

To its credit, Platonic does its best to address these questions early. The first episode features Will and his coworkers at the bar where he works as a brewmaster debating whether men and women can be friends; Will tries to cite When Harry Met Sally as evidence that they can before his friends remind him that Harry and Sally eventually wind up married in that movie. Meanwhile, Sylvia’s children press her for details on their past, incredulous that the two never dated or hooked up, and her husband Charlie’s coworkers start casually referring to Will as his “wife’s boyfriend.”

Thankfully, Platonic doesn’t compromise by writing in a prior romantic entanglement between the two or any sort of explanation as to why they’ve never considered getting physical with one another; the show is smart enough to recognize that Will and Sylvia don’t owe us any lengthy backstory. They’re just friends, simple as that.

Platonic with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne on Apple TV+

‘Platonic’ relies on gender stereotypes

That’s not to say that the show doesn’t rely on some tired gender stereotypes. For all its effort to break away from the When Harry Met Sally mold, Platonic does utilize plenty of its traditional rom-com tropes. Like Harry in the 1989 classic, Will is sarcastic, free-spirited, going through a divorce and rebounding by dating a much-younger woman. (In other words, he’s the fun one who needs to get his life together.)

Sylvia, meanwhile, is a high-strung Culver City mother of three whose life since she left her job as a lawyer 13 years ago to become a stay-at-home mom consists solely of school pick-ups and drop-offs and various home renovation projects. (In other words, she’s the boring, uncool one who could stand to loosen up a bit.) He’s a hip brewmaster who resents the fact that his business partners want to start making hard kombucha; she hates beer and drinks white wine with ice cubes in it.

Characters need room to grow on ‘Platonic’

Narratively, it makes sense that these characters need room to grow and learn from each other along the way — although certainly there have been plenty of successful comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm that have opted out of any sort of real character development entirely — but why does it always have to be the man who’s the cool, messy one who refuses to be tamed?

Why is it always the woman who’s the dull stick-in-the-mud with a 9 p.m. bedtime nagging him about getting his act together? Why are the women in these types of comedies always deciding they’re unfulfilled by their corporate jobs as lawyers or other professionals and leaving them to go bake cupcakes or plan weddings? Why can’t Sylvia also like beer? Would a show where a single, childless woman who enjoys her career has a platonic friendship with a man simply be a bridge too far?

Ultimately, though, Platonic is less about whether men and women can be friends and more about what friendship looks like when you’re in your 40s. Both Will and Sylvia are in the midst of their own mid-life crisis when we meet them; Will’s coping with his divorce and feeling like a sell-out at work, while Sylvia’s feeling unfulfilled as a housewife and considering re-entering the workforce.

Will and Sylvia depict challenges

As any good friends would, they push each other and call each other out on their shit, but they also have some lingering codependency leftover from their college days that results in a lot of late nights and an inappropriately drunken appearance at Charlie’s work event. Through most of the series, Charlie is supportive of his wife’s friendship with Will, but he grows to resent how much time she’s spending with Will and the fact that she confides in him before her own husband. Crawling into bed at 4 a.m. after a wild night out is fine — great, even! — when you’re in your 20s, but it becomes much trickier when you’ve got a family at home waiting for you.

Hollywood Has Finally Decided That Men and Women Can Be Friends

"Together Together" is a quietly groundbreaking rom-com centered around a man and a woman with no interest in having sex with each other

The show does a good job of depicting this challenge. There is, of course, no doubt that people need to have friends other than their spouses — at one point, one character says this point-blank to Charlie. But as we age and settle down, the amount of time we’re able to commit to those friendships shrinks. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that Charlie’s best friend (played by Guy Branum) is his coworker at his law firm, while Sylvia’s tightest non-Will friendship is with Katie, one of the other moms at her kids’ school who she sees every day at pick-up and drop-off (played by Carla Gallo, who steals every scene she’s in, just as she did in a handful of Judd Apatow movies with Rogen in the late-aughts).

These are genuine bonds, not simply friendships of convenience, but it’s certainly easier to get close to someone when you see and talk to them every day. Will and Sylvia, on the other hand, have to work to figure out what an appropriate amount of time for them to be spending together is; ultimately, it’s an issue that has nothing to do with their genders and everything to do with the stage of life they’re in.

Men and women can be just friends

It’s a delicate balance, and Platonic makes a valiant attempt at addressing it, but ultimately the show is at its best when it simply allows Will and Sylvia time to hang out and shoot the shit with each other. Rogen and Byrne have a great, easy chemistry — they played husband and wife in Neighbors nearly a decade ago and have presumably maintained some sort of offscreen, real-life friendship in the years since — and the best scenes come when they’re cracking jokes with each other, getting into various hijinks or getting drunk together in a Johnny Rocket’s-esque chain restaurant. For all the hand-wringing over their friendship, Platonic is most enjoyable when it simply allows them to be friends.

And really, is that so much to ask? We need more shows like Platonic, but will we ever outgrow them? Can’t we, at some point, move past the question of whether a platonic friendship between a man and a woman is possible and simply go about the business of presenting and celebrating one onscreen?