The new Netflix series “Uncoupled” opens with Michael (Neil Patrick Harris), a gay man in his mid-40s with the perfect life. He is in for quite the shock when he discovers that his boyfriend of seventeen years, Colin (Tuc Watkins), has decided to move out. Michael finds himself newly single in New York City and much older as he tries to navigate dating in the social media age. He learns to rely on his friends Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas), Billy (Emerson Brooks) and Suzanne (Tisha Campbell) as they also navigate dating and careers. The series is hilarious (almost too much in certain moments) and does have a warm theme of self-growth both inside and outside of relationships.
The heart of the show is to showcase how dating has become complex with social media and dating apps. Having been with Colin for seventeen years, Michael is constantly perplexed trying to navigate Grindr and in-person singles events. His friends Billy and Stanley try to take him under their wing, but nothing can prepare him for how difficult the adjustment back to dating will be. Michael is constantly frustrated by his options for partners, which is compounded by being older. The show demonstrates how dating apps enable bad behavior. It tries to hammer home that you are not alone if you are frustrated by the modern dating scene.
The emotional core of the show also rests in how Michael learns to live without Colin. Learning to be single and how to date again are entirely different tasks from grieving his relationship. Their shared dreams, friends and home make it difficult to forget his fond memories of their relationship. Micheal also has to confront that there was no specific reason for their split. He tries desperately to find evidence of Colin having an affair so he does not have to confront the possibility that Colin may have just fallen out of love. Michael has to recognize the ways that he acted selfishly and grow from there.
With all of these reflections on relationships and personal growth, one might have a false impression of this being a serious show. In actuality, comedy always comes first in “Uncoupled.” It was genuinely funny, and I got a few solid laughs in. However, often comedy would overpower a touching moment. An example of this is when one character reveals that he has breast cancer. Instead of showing compassion, the other characters immediately start cracking jokes, which is uncomfortable. The characters eventually apologize, but it was a strange moment for character development. The jokes also frequently used being gay as a crutch. The jokes were not necessarily offensive, but the punchline had to keep falling back to homosexuality or sexuality rather than letting the characters be funny about other topics.
These comedic drawbacks would have been much less noticeable had the show not been intended to be watched quickly. The season was released all at once, but the show would have done better if it were released weekly. It was not correctly formatted for an eight-episode, binge-able miniseries. Each episode became formulaic, where Michael finds a new love interest, discovers something wrong with the said love interest and then finally experiences a moment of personal growth. This pattern works well when spaced out, but watching the episodes back-to-back makes the pattern feel stiff. It would have succeeded better as a network sitcom. A short Netflix series has specific styling; not everything will do well with that format.
The pacing of this series was disproportionate as well. There were a few “filler” episodes, which would have been appropriate in a longer season. It’s an odd choice for only eight episodes. After lulling a bit, the finale is full of character development and untied ends. I did not think the show would have a second season until I reached the final episode, which ended with multiple cliffhangers. I would watch the second season because of these surprises, but I don’t think it needed to be continued based on the rest of the season.
“Uncoupled” had potential but was hindered by its format and need to make everything a punchline. There were many heartwarming moments of Michael learning to love others and himself better. I will probably watch the next season to see what happens with the reveals at the end. The actors did all have great delivery of their jokes, even if some were in poorly timed moments. If you choose to watch “Uncoupled,” try watching only one episode at a time and turning off your inner critic. It’s perhaps a bit unfair to dig too deeply into something intended to be merely an opportunity for laughs.
“Uncoupled” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Ella Hachee