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Neil Patrick Harris stars as Michael Lawson, a forty-something real estate broker who suddenly finds himself alone, flailing in the choppy waters of gay singlehood, after his partner of 17 years (Tuc Watkins) up and leaves him without any explanation or warning.
Co-created with Modern Family executive producer Jeffrey Richman, Uncoupled nonetheless bears the hallmarks of any Darren Star series (see also: Sex and the City, Younger, Emily in Paris) in that it is pleasing both to the eyes and the ears.
The dialogue is crisp and quick, the clothes are expensive and tailored, and the stakes are relatively low (one of the major dramas this first season is the sale of an apartment owned by blithe and bitter divorcee Claire, played by a clearly-enjoying-herself Marcia Gay Harden).
But unlike Star's previous efforts (and for that matter, Harris') the gay characters aren't on the sidelines but are front and center. This is very much a gay show. Would-be botoxed buttholes and all.
"I find that doing a sexy show where it's gay content, but it's easily observed and processed by everyone is kind of a step in an interesting direction," Harris says. "I think we're in a very fortunate time, at least as actors, to be able to be in an Uncoupled because they wouldn't necessarily make a show like this 10 years ago, five years ago, even."
He continues, "The gay story was more the coming-out story. It was younger people who were struggling with their sexuality and what it means and that story's been told and it still gets told and is great."
"But when you're dealing with people who are generations above that, often in the past it's just been comedy tropes and the purpose was that they were dried up and wistful about a life that they don't get to live anymore. And I think this breaks that barrier down a little bit. I've never felt better in my own skin at 49 years old. I don't feel dusty at 50. I got a lot of life left to live and a lot of other co-stars to hump."
But, as Star and Richman will tell you, this very gay show still has very universal appeal.
"Certainly a lot of gay men watch Sex and the City and related to those characters. And I think by the same way women, straight men are going to watch these characters and hopefully relate to their emotional experiences and find that they're not different from their own," Star says. "We wanted the show to feel very universal, wanted it to be a human story that would appeal to a very wide audience because everyone at a certain point has experienced being on either side of a breakup."
"And we also knew several real long-term gay couples where this very specific implosion of their relationship happened," Richman adds. "I know a lot of Michaels that were blindsided like this. That's not been my personal experience, but certainly I've been broken up with and I have broken relationships, but there's also a part of your imagination ... Where would you go if that happened, how would I go on? How would I wake up in the morning? Then you're talking to somebody who it really happened to, and they tell you how they did it. They walk into a closet at work and just cry, but they go to work every day. Life doesn't just stop when a thing like that happens."
With two sitcom veterans at the wheel, and a few of the genre's brightest stars at its center (shout-out to perennial scene-stealer Tisha Campbell), how could it not appeal to a mass audience? Uncoupled is, EW critic Kristen Baldwin writes in her review, like a gay And Just Like That — no tea, no shade.
"Michael and his friends aren't carefree, twenty-something urban adventurers; they're adults looking for security and stability, with some manageable doses of fun mixed in," she writes. "The prospect of starting over in middle age is bittersweet, terrifying, and absurd — perfect fodder for a sitcom that's by and for grown-ups."
This show is also just... fun.
Uncoupled doesn't take itself too seriously because it doesn't have to. After all, it's the summer of the gay rom-com. Without the burden of respectability, of shouldering stories for an entire community, the show is free to be light, frothy, melodramatic, and unafraid to offend.
In one episode, Michael self-righteously chastises a hookup (that he picked up on the street, but that's neither here nor there) for not using condoms. One could argue it comes off as out-of-touch in the PrEP-ared world of 2022, but Michael is out of touch. That's the whole point, and he's not apologizing for it, or trying to overcompensate in the most Che Diaz of ways.
This show, after all, is a very specific view of gay life, of gay men of means and of a certain age, and it isn't trying to be groundbreaking or knowingly provocative. There's a freedom in characters not discovering the world for the first time but rather figuring out how they fit into a world to which they can no longer relate. There's also a freedom of an unapologetically gay show entering a media landscape in which so much ground has already been broken, so many ways already paved.
"I don't think our show's designed in any way to pave ways," Harris says. "Like that's why I like the show. And in fact, I think it can be, it is more successful to people watching it because we're not trying to create something to pave. Like that's what makes it nice.
"The characters have lived lives. And the lives that they live now in 2022 allow them to just be people. They don't have to be a certain type of person. And so we're watching a breakup show with just two people who happen to be of the same sex. I think that's fantastic."
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