As a team, Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen alone could want anything for watchability. If anything, the new Apple TV+ show “Platonic” is a showcase for the things each of them is unspeakably good at doing. Byrne (here, as listless, married mother of three Sylvia) is a whiz at physical comedy, turning everything from the process of getting ready in the morning to being repulsed by reptiles into her own distinct kind of laugh. Rogen (Recently divorced Will and brewmaster at a trendy downtown Los Angeles pub) paints with rants and references like a hoarse-voiced watercolorist, rattling off reasons to be angry or angry as if he were capturing a Parisian countryside.
Years apart after a falling out, Will’s crumbling marriage gives Sylvia a chance to catch up. No ulterior motives, just a chance for two dear friends not to be completely banished from each other’s lives. A rocky reboot gradually gives way to more and more memories of the fun of years gone by and soon, the pair are escaping their seemingly goofy lives to find an escape together in different — and yes, platonic — ways. “Platonic” centers around a conundrum: While the two actors are unlocking their combined powers, Sylvia and Will are slowly convincing each other’s self-destructive tendencies, even while having fun together.
They combat each other’s midlife boredom with nights out on the town, creative uses for rental scooters, and lunchtime trips to kitschy themed restaurants while Sylvia’s children are at school. Along the way, the ease forged by two “Neighbors” films between Byrne, Rogen, and director Nicholas Stoller (a co-creator of the series along with Francesca Delbanco) makes for plenty of good blocks. You can see why it’s so easy for these two to get lost in text exchange riffs and dares across and beyond the Arts District. Even if some of Will and Sylvia’s choices seem downright ill-advised, there’s comfort in seeing how little it takes for this combination to be compelling.
“Platonic” ends up being something that isn’t necessarily too positive, but more miss than hit beyond the surefire duo at its core. One of the great cornerstones of the series is Charlie, Sylvia’s Ken-doll lawyer husband, played affably by Luke Macfarlane but ultimately hollow almost by design. It’s not enough of a wet blanket that Sylvia ever sees Will as the superior life partner, but Charlie has yet to represent some sort of void that Sylvia is expected to replace in some form elsewhere. Charlie’s general harmlessness gets help from law firm colleagues Stewart (Guy Branum) and Vanessa (Janet Varney). But those side tangents only end up reinforcing why the Will/Sylvia dynamic works so much. Sylvia and Will are a team that make great TV. Sylvia and Charlie form a solid marriage, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. “Platonic” plays with that tension enough to find reality within it, but never has much else to say beyond pointing out the disconnect.
With most of the show taking place inside bars and lounges, “Platonic” takes the opportunity to venture to Los Angeles for some hijinks among friends. If this show comes close to Byrne-Rogen’s energy in scenes that aren’t limited to the two of them, it’s in a handful of chaotic group outings. Those generally fall into two camps. When it comes from Will and/or Sylvia urging everyone involved to see where the night can lead, “Platonic” comes close to that shaggy ideal that can sustain a low-key sitcom for seasons and seasons. When those flings seem geared to bring up some other source of conflict than “two single adults who hang out with each other a lot,” that’s when the show starts to drag and wind. This last batch feels more like hearing Will or Sylvia’s problems and anxieties secondhand than sharing the moment with any of the people on screen.
For the most part, “Platonic” is a series of expertly crafted tiny midlife crises. Will starts dating again and finds he’s not equipped to be with anyone of any adult age. Sylvia begins to question why she gave up her career in favor of a larger family. It’s not uncharted territory, but get these two to start throwing The Music of the Music characters’ names like javelins and suddenly it all comes to life.
Sure, there’s a Nora Ephron-penned elephant in the room when it comes to whether Sylvia and Will can spend that much time around each other, invested in tearing each other out of their respective funks, and not have that transformation into a different kind of feelings. There’s a name “When Harry Met Sally” in the first episode and a later episode makes another nod to it, but other than that, “Platonic” is more focused on heartache than lust. It’s less a question of whether they would fit in as a couple and more of, “Why would they want that?” The characters seem to know what these ten episodes also make clear for audiences: Fun comes from escaping, and there’s never much beyond what you wish there was.
“Platonic” is clearly rooted in the kind of real anxieties about commitment, friendship, and jealousy that can come with being in a long-term relationship or marriage. She asks whether having multiple partners who perform different emotional functions is something people inherently have the ability to maintain. The response that “Platonic” gives for most of its season is a playful shrug. He’s shaggy and admirable at times, but if you’re going to take this approach, you better have a stellar, top-down hangout team to take it from there.
The first three episodes of “Platonic” are now available to stream on Apple TV+. New episodes will be available on Wednesdays.