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Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen’s Apple TV+ Buddy Comedy Platonic is Amiable and Harmless

You may not be able to be friends with Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in real life, but the new Apple TV+ series “Platonic” at least lets you watch them hang out. That’s the general guarantee from this frothy comedy, the streamer’s late investment in movie stars alone selling projects (the mega-successful and hollow “Ghosted” and star-studded miniseries “Extrapolations” come to mind). And like the Jason Segel series “Shrinking” from a few months ago, “Platonic” is essentially a late 2000s indie movie that tries to stretch its charisma to five hours, warmed by the same California sun and treated with the same bright color palette as if it were taking place in the same Apple TV+ Streaming Universe.

For all the irresistible sitcom arcs that have been made about will-they-won’t-they friendships between two close buddies (take your pick; I’ll choose Nick and Jess from “New Girl”) “Platonic” is at least subversive in nixing the usual tension. It’s refreshing to see a comedy about this dynamic between two people who fit together but don’t want to get together-together. In its wiser, sharper moments, “Platonic” is like a romantic comedy about a couple who are coasting—they aren’t insecure about their closeness, but the parts of themselves they’re trying to escape from for another night. 

But in riffing on these ideas, the title couldn’t be more literal. “Platonic” is about as harmless and amiable as it can be.

The series, from co-creators and series directors Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller (who are married in real life), catches Sylvia (Rose Byrne) and Will (Seth Rogen) at midlife crisis points. She’s facing burnout from being a stay-at-home mom to three kids, while her passion for being a lawyer dissipated 13 years ago; he is recently divorced and working as a brewmaster at a rising craft brew spot where he often argues with his fellow employees. Sylvia has pantsuits; Will has vintage designer wear. She’s stuck; he’s struggling. 

Sylvia and Will reunite for a few minutes after she first reaches out, and their first meeting is hilarious—they have nothing to say to each other as they sit at a Starbucks. She shows him a pic of her three kids, and he bellows out a “Wow, there they are. Cool.” But in the series’ sometimes savvy way of presenting friendships, he invites her to check out the bar, not thinking she’d come. When she does arrive, they end up rebooting a friendship that’s often sparked by impulsivity. Though they have a falling out that night when she has to go home and cut off the fun, Sylvia and Will are soon texting and razzing each other that night, beginning a series of hangs that gradually change who they are.  

We don’t hear a lot of the backstory about how the two were friends, and sometimes that makes for clunky exposition dialogue spoken by outsiders (“You were like teenage girls!” says Audrey [Alisha Wainwright]). And yet we don’t need flashbacks or many pictures to get a sense of that chemistry because it’s apparent in the energetic, free-wheeling work of Byrne and Rogen. Yes, the “Neighbors” co-stars are playing certain versions that look awfully familiar (Rogen, who must have recorded his Donkey Kong lines for “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” on this set, especially). But they fire each other up in ways that provide enough momentum for each light episode, like when Sylvia encourages beer snob Will to eat at a tacky restaurant, only for him to leave wearing a bunch of merchandise. 

There’s no threat of either of them getting the wrong signals from each other or changing the dynamic. Rather, the relationship can be made weird by external points-of-view, like with Sylvia’s husband, Charlie (Luke Macfarlane, from Stoller’s “Bros”). He has building jealousy that he smiles through, with a growing reason to be uncomfortable: the communication in his marriage has struggled since Will came back, and she tells certain things to Will and not her husband. Macfarlane excels with some of the show’s funny or sad but always gentle beats, presenting a good partner trying to be sensitive and supportive but hurt by being stuck on the outside. 

When it comes to stirring up trouble of the good and bad kind, “Platonic” almost seems to have a contractual line not to raise expectations too high as a drama or a comedy. It more or less drops Byrne and Rogen into quasi-amusing shenanigans, like when Sylvia and Will check out a possible new home for Sylvia’s family, and it’s an assisted living care facility, inspiring Rogen to riff with snark around at his most self-amusing register. The same loose appeal goes for an incident in which the two do coke in a bathroom, or later have to repair an expensive painting. 

The series has too weak of a comic design, which can be discouraging. It gives some of its compelling supporting characters—like Will’s dry but amusing motor-mouth co-worker Omar (Vinny Thomas)—bits of quirky dialogue, and then moves on. There’s a strangeness brewing inside Sylvia and Will’s impulsive nature, and it finally gets tapped into in a fleeting sci-fi moment in the last episode of season one. It’s also just a brief moment, and by no means a series-shifting one. But it shows how much elasticity the series has for future, stranger, and funnier arcs, given how much Byrne and Rogen ground it.

“Platonic” is also content with having only mild conflicts, as if it doesn’t want to risk disrupting the ease that’s in place of anything remotely challenging. Such restraint can be admirable to a point, but the series often has little to say. Sylvia and Will come packaged with many interesting midlife crisis questions—when is something considered cool, or just immature?—but “Platonic” uses such themes for dressing more than closer examination. 

“Platonic” is a hang-out series, which would inspire more cynicism if the main on-screen couple weren’t so excitingly in sync. Even when “Platonic” can be too enamored with its minor victory of simply representing a different kind of love, Byrne and Rogen will then do something together that’s funny or sweet or endearing. You can’t fake chemistry like that.  

All of season one was screened for review. The first three episodes of "Platonic" are now screening on Apple TV+, with a new episode each week. 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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