The idea that the romantic comedy is a genre in decline is at least as old as
*When Harry Met Sally*, the movie name-checked in both the first and last episode of the new Apple TV+ series *Platonic*. When that now-classic story of friendship turned love first hit theaters in the summer of 1989, some critics considered it, in the words of the Chicago Tribunes Gene Siskel, a pale imitation of *Annie Hall (Siskels *At the Movies* sparring partner Roger Ebert disagreed with a vigorous thumbs-up.)
The rom-com is tough to pull off now, the argument goes, because the vast changes in social andbehavior since the genres screwball-era heyday make it difficult to find meaningful obstacles to the union of two consensually romance-seeking adults. With divorce, cohabitation,relationships, the hookup culture enabled by birth control, and other alternatives to happily-ever-after straight marriage on the table, in a way they werent during Hollywoods golden age, the plausibility of the will-they-or-wont-they plot diminishes along with its social relevance
Even rom-coms that switch up the genders of the leads or otherwise place them in more modern contexts still tend to uphold at least one binary: the one that divides friendship from romantic love
*Platonics pilot episode sees Will, a brewer and bar owner played by Seth Rogen, justifying his post-divorce coffee meetup with long-estranged pal Sylvia (Rose Byrne) by assuring his business partners Andy (Tre Hale) and Reggie (Andrew Lopez) that men and women can indeed be friends. Doesnt *When Harry Met Sally* prove it? Nah, says Andy: Thats a bad example. Harry marries Sally. TheyThat movie should be called *When HarrySally Reggie concurs
The rest of
*Platonics 10-episode season devotes itself not to ratcheting up thetension between Will and Sylvia, but to demonstrating the tension their growing nonsexual intimacy creates in the rest of their lives. Sylvias husband Charlie (Luke Macfarlanenot the stiff bore who usually fills this spot in the rom-com universe, but a devoted, charming, and knee-meltingly handsome manis understandably hurt that his wifes emotional energy seems more invested in Will than in him, even as he trusts (after some initial doubts) that the two are not doing anything physical. These two former party buds are mutual enablers, for better and for worse; when they get together, the chaos that tends to ensue is both creative and destructive (though either can be a source of hilarity). * was co-created by a real-life married couple: Nicholas Stoller, the director of Platonic* *Forgetting Sarah Marshall*and the *Neighbors*movies, and Francesca Delbanco, the novelist who, with Stoller, created the Netflix series *Friends From College*. Though it shares an easygoing shagginess with those properties (and other mid-2000s Judd Apatowproduced movies to which it owes a stylistic debt), this is a polished and considered piece of work, a conscious bid to rethink the rules of what might be thought of as domestic comedy Rogens and Byrnes characters arent seeking to make a home together; in fact, a season-long subplot involves his enthusiastic participation in a house hunt for her and her family. The series conflict hinges instead on the two finding a new place in the world with each others help. Who will she become now that the youngest of her three children is in full-time school? How will he recover from a nasty divorce and figure out how to turn his passion for beer-brewing into a solvent business? *Platonic* makes these ordinary characters everyday concerns as dramatically engaging and funny as it does thanks to the Tracy-and-Hepburn-level (or is it Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell?) chemistry between its perfectly cast leads. Rogen and Byrne are real-life friends who have played spouses twice in the *Neighbors* movies. They share a talent for conveying inner vulnerability while exchanging wisecracks, and for exhibiting borderline antisocial behavior without losing the audiences sympathy. As Byrne has pointed out in interviews, the show is at heart a buddy comedy. If the pleasure Will and Sylvia took in each others company werent as palpable as it is, the questions the show raises about the proper role of friendship in our adult emotional lives would feel like abstract debate prompts. Instead, I found myself legitimately asking: Would I feel rightly annoyed if my partner had a friend as close as Sylvia is to Will? And if I suddenly developed an attachment that intense in midlife, would I be miffed if my family or co-workers deemed the relationship unhealthy? *Platonic* is not without flaws. The episodes are only half an hour, but because there are 10 of them, the show can sometimes feel padded, and a romantic relationship that develops between two side characters feels inserted as a narrative contrivance rather than arising organically from the shows world. As is too often the case in sitcoms about parenting, Sylvia and Charlies children never emerge as real characters; the day-to-day child care issues a stay-at-home mother of three would necessarily be contending with seldom seem to interrupt the flow of her and Wills near-daily shambolic misadventures. And, significantly for a show that assigns itself the task of rethinking the rom-com, there is norelationship anywhere in sight, though Guy Branum appears in a too-small recurring role as Charlies deadpanco-worker. The absence of such a storyline is especially puzzling given that just last year Stoller co-wrote and directed *Bros*, arom-com that featured two of *Platonics strongest supporting cast members, Macfarlane and Branum. Would the presence of acouple destabilize this shows premise about whetherfriendships can remain chaste? And if so, in a show thats all about overturning rom-com conventions, wouldnt that be a good thing?
*Platonic* gets right about the romantic-comedy genre, though, ultimately makes up for the shows shortcomings. This show understands that, in art as in life, one of the great joys the world has to offer is the act of hanging out with someone who truly gets you, sharing french fries, in-jokes, and stories of your often boring, occasionally magical lives. I appreciated, too, the matter-of-factness with which both leads are presented as *potential *objects of romantic desire. As recently as *Neighbors 2*, made seven years ago, Rogen was the target of some visual gags that compared his less-than-toned torso with the far more sculpted abs of the frequently shirtless frat boy played by Zac Efron. Other movies, from *Knocked Up* to *Zack and Miri Make a Porno* to *Long Shot*, have taken as part of their premise the notion that no woman as conventionally hot as Katherine Heigl or Elizabeth Banks or Charlize Theron would think of someone like Rogen as a potential mate
Over the course of 10 episodes, as Sylvias husband moves from mistrust to acceptance of his wifes connection to her bestie, the disparity in the two friends respective degrees of attractiveness is never cited as an argument either for or against their getting together. As a fan who has nursed a crush on Rogen for going on two decades, I felt vindicated at last in my taste for scruffy, deadpan dudes with normal, un-gym-honed physiques
*Platonic* could be considered a 21 st-century return to *When Harry Met Sallys structuring question Can men and women be friends the answer the show finally provides is appropriately equivocal. In the context of middle age, a time of life focused on career and family responsibilities, what does it mean to forge an intense new bond with anyone? No matter the gender or sexuality of the people involved, friendship, like love, can be a tricky and heartbreaking business. In this shows rueful last episode, Will and Sylvia meet up again after a period of separation, as a montage recalls the high and low points of their nonromantic courtship The dysfunctional euphoria of that time, its implied, is now a thing of the past, but the connection the two share is permanent. In the context of a friendship rom-com, thats as happily-ever-after as it gets.