Baltimore Sun

For ‘Uncoupled,’ think a gay ‘Sex and the City’ with Harris

- By Nina Metz

Middle-aged, gay and single, Stanley James is a New York art dealer who is an endlessly watchable mix of vulnerable and seen-it-all sardonic confidence. He may not be ripped like the guys in his friend group, but so what? Not everybody has to buy into the constant status-seeking that fuels a certain class of New Yorkers. He’s loyal and sweet but nobody’s fool. As played by Brooks Ashmanskas, he is the thumping heart and soul of the Netflix comedy series “Uncoupled.”

He is also, I should point out, not the lead character. Really, he should be. His is the one story that feels grounded in something real, even when he’s making you laugh.

But that’s not what creators Darren Star and Jeffrey Richman had in mind for the show.

Instead, it stars Neil Patrick Harris as a handsomely neurotic, selfinvolv­ed real estate agent named Michael Lawson who is dumped by his longtime finance bro boyfriend (Tuc Watkins). Adrift for the first time in 17 years, the show follows Michael’s misadventu­res of self-loathing and uncertaint­y that tend to follow a breakup.

Star is a brand name in television, known for everything from “Sex in the City” to “Emily in Paris” and the format of “Uncoupled” — visually and stylistica­lly — follows in those footsteps. Richman is a seasoned TV writer as well, whose credits include “Modern Family,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Frasier.”

And yet too often

“Uncoupled” comes across like a collection of ideas stitched together by an algorithm: “Sex and the City” but make it gay, about a guy who wouldn’t be out of place on a high-end real estate reality show like “Million Dollar Listing: New York.” Kicky music? Check. Confabs over dinner and drinks? Check. Everybody’s effortless­ly wealthy? Check. Relatively tame sex scenes? Need you ask?

No matter how hard Michael tries to “get back out there,” some things have changed. It’s meant to be a humorous if jarring realizatio­n, despite the fact that he has all the shallow external markers of a desirable person: Trim, stylish, still young in appearance. But who is he, outside of a man now made miserable by divorce? I’m not sure the show really knows. Neither likable or unlikeable, he’s just sort of … there.

Stanley, on the other hand, is a wholly realized human being. I wonder if someone behind the scenes belatedly understood this as well, because there are some welcome course correction­s in the latter half of the season.

That’s when, finally, the

focus expands out to give some of the supporting characters a reason to exist as more than a sounding board to Michael’s breakup blues. His circle also includes his bestie and fellow broker Suzanne (Tisha Campbell) and another longtime friend Billy, a semifamous TV weather forecaster on the prowl (Emerson Brooks). Throughout, Michael’s ex remains a pleasantly attractive cipher. We never find out why he left exactly, but the show suggests it was Michael’s fault — that he’s so self-absorbed that he was unable to see his partner’s increasing dissatisfa­ction and impending midlife crisis.

There are worse things to have on in the background while folding laundry. And gay men should be centered in TV rom-coms; this is a welcome step in that direction, although it’s a pretty narrow slice of queer life as depicted here.

The finale’s cliffhange­r makes clear that the show creators expect a season two renewal. Based on the kind of series Netflix has been pursuing as of late, that’s probably a good bet.

 ?? SARAH SHATZ/NETFLIX ?? Brooks Ashmanskas, from left, Neil Patrick Harris and Emerson Brooks in “Uncoupled.”
SARAH SHATZ/NETFLIX Brooks Ashmanskas, from left, Neil Patrick Harris and Emerson Brooks in “Uncoupled.”

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