Apple TV+’s Platonic knows perfectly well that it’s going to draw comparisons to When Harry Met Sally. The characters themselves call out the parallels within the first ten minutes, when Will (Seth Rogen) insists the ’80s classic “proves” it’s possible for him to remain platonic with his ex-BFF Sylvia (Rose Byrne) — only to be disabused of the notion when it’s pointed out to him that the film actually ends with Harry and Sally getting hitched.
In truth, though, the When Harry Met Sally references are a bit of a feint. Platonic, created by Nicholas Stoller and Francesca Delbanco (Netflix’s Friends from College), is less concerned with whether men and women can maintain friendships in general than it is with what Will and Sylvia are getting out of this particular friendship at this particular moment. And while clean-cut answers prove hard to come by, the series’ willingness to meet its messy characters where they are yields a fun, funny, surprisingly nuanced exploration of early middle age.
Heteronormative tropes notwithstanding, it’s clear right away that the real dividing line between Will and Sylvia has to do with lifestyle. Although they’re the same age, with shared memories of partying together through college and young adulthood, the pair have lost contact over the years, and now find themselves in radically different places. He’s the recently divorced brewmaster of a downtown L.A. bar frequented by a young, hip clientele; she’s a Culver City mom whose routine for the past decade has revolved around school drop-offs and pick-ups. When the pair meet over coffee in the half-hour premiere (directed by Stoller), the conversation is so stilted that Will is reduced to asking questions like “You still got that family of yours?”
But when the two reconnect at a party a few days later, it becomes apparent that what they do share is a certain aimlessness — a reluctance to let go of the people they were in their 20s and 30s, combined with a deep anxiety about who they could still become in their 40s and beyond. (Incidentally, if you, like me, grew up watching Rogen on Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared — yes, Platonic might provoke a midlife crisis of its own as you realize that we’re midlife-crisis age now.) Like Netflix’s Beef, another recent series about a male-female millennial duo channeling their unhappiness into an all-consuming bond, Platonic flirts with the possibility of sexual tension without giving itself over to it. As Sylvia’s extremely patient husband Charlie (Luke MacFarlane) puts it in a fit of insecurity: “I know that Will and Sylvia are not fucking, but it almost feels like they’re getting off on the fact that they could be fucking.”
In some ways, the relationship would probably be more straightforward if they were. That, at least, would follow a familiar narrative pattern laid out by countless rom-coms and divorce filings. What Will and Sylvia get from each other is harder to pin down. For Will, Sylvia fills a need for distraction and care as he careens between a longing to move on and settle down, and a desire to keep partying with 20somethings who consider Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” a throwback high school jam. For Sylvia, Will represents someone who’s even more messed up than she is, and therefore easier to confide in about her own fears and insecurities. Perfect, put-together Charlie is the man she gives the best of herself to, but Will’s the one she turns to when she’s at her worst.
Platonic mines plenty of humor from the sheer weirdness of the central dynamic, most uproariously with an episode that sees Charlie insisting that Will “Lady and the Tramp” a Dodger dog with him in an effort to show that he’s totally cool with the man his coworkers refer to as his wife’s boyfriend. But the comedy takes seriously the genuine connection between the two besties. Byrne and Rogen, who starred as a married couple in Stoller’s Neighbors nearly a decade ago, are possibly even better as pals thanks to their playful, comfortable chemistry. If the half-hours run a bit shaggy with ambling riffs about the secret to speedy sex or the cheesy delights of a Johnny Rockets-style restaurant, it’s fun simply to spend time in the company of two people who so clearly get each other.
Indeed, Platonic enjoys their closeness so much that — much like Will and Sylvia themselves — it sometimes loses sight of the other people and plotlines around them. The series seems relatively confident navigating Will’s work dramas, but makes almost no effort to dig into day-to-day practicalities of childcare for stay-at-home mother Sylvia, and makes vague work of her marriage to Charlie. Meanwhile, the supporting cast, which includes Carla Gallo as Sylvia’s mom friend, Guy Branum as Charlie’s work buddy and Tre Hale as Will’s business partner, is winning enough that it feels a shame they’re left as sidekicks whose own journeys unfold offscreen.
Then again, Will and Sylvia’s relationship is what makes Platonic feel special in the first place. Theirs is of a sort rarely canonized onscreen. It’s not romantic, nor familial. Though it’s grounded in the sort of sincere mutual support that leads Will to cut short a boys’ night out to take care of Sylvia when she gets too stoned, or Sylvia to help Will break into his ex’s house and get back his pet lizard, the friendship teeters too close to disaster to look like any sort of ideal. Yet at the end of the ten-episode season, it’s Will and Sylvia who lock eyes at a wedding, and Will and Sylvia who see a year’s worth of memories flashing between them. When Harry Met Sally this isn’t, but Platonic is in its own way a celebration of love — an imperfect, enabling, destabilizing love, but a real and meaningful love all the same.