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Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen Thrive in Platonic's Friend Zone

The Neighbors stars trade big-screen antics for the lived-in banter of lifelong companionship.
  • Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in Platonic (Photo: Apple TV+)
    Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in Platonic (Photo: Apple TV+)

    Not every comedy can make a raccoon attack the impetus for an emotional breakthrough, but Platonic does. As it charts the intense friendship between fortysomethings Sylvia (Rose Byrne) and Will (Seth Rogen), the Apple TV+ series delivers madcap physical bits and tender feelings with equal skill. In doing so, it manages to depict the complexity of longtime adult relationships — the fear of change, the unquestioning support — without becoming arch or sappy. It lives instead in an alluring middle ground, where everything’s a little bit heightened but nothing reaches an obnoxious extreme.

    Full credit to Byrne and Rogen, who trade the vein-popping zaniness of their frat-boys-gone-wild film Neighbors for the relaxed, lived-in banter of people who’ve been making each other laugh for decades. The series begins with the characters on the outs, since years ago Sylvia told Will she didn’t like his fiancée, but after news of his divorce brings them back together, they slide into their old rhythm. Soon, they’re hanging out almost every day, remembering how good they make each other feel and trying to help each other through various mid-life crises. This works because the actors are so attuned to one another. They weave their lines together like a real conversation, interrupting and overlapping and punctuating sentences with “um”s and “yeah”s. They also play off each other physically, mirroring each other’s body language or nodding in agreement as the other speaks. It’s a full-body type of listening, and it says as much about their connection as a monologue ever could.

    But the monologues are excellent, too. Series creators Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller write most of the episodes, and they give all the characters distinct voices. Sylvia, an attorney-turned-stay-at-home-mom, worries she’s made herself boring, so she overcompensates by putting an ironic, “everything’s a disaster” spin on things. When the toilet overflows, she screams, “Why is this my life?!?” When she’s frustrated with Will, she launches into an obscene tirade that would startle a sailor. But there’s always a twist of self-effacing wit to suggest she knows she’s ridiculous, which lets Sylvia seem charming and smart, not bitter and shrill. This pairs well with Will’s blunt style: Obsessed with seeming cool, he fancies himself a “truth teller” in a fashion-forward hat. He’s the kind of guy who thinks it’s “real” to tell his business partners at the bar he co-owns exactly what he thinks about their financial plan, and he thinks it’s good for Sylvia when he says her insecurities are pointless. But he’s also explicit about why people matter to him, which takes the edge off his rudeness and makes it obvious why Sylvia enjoys him.

    As for the nature of their relationship, Delbanco and Stoller stick to their title: Sylvia and Will really do remain platonic, and even though other people joke that they might as well sleep together, they never come close. This frees both the writers and the actors to mine the layers of long-term friendship without the distraction of sexual heat.

    Last year, the FX limited series Fleishman Is In Trouble and a trenchant Atlantic cover story by Jennifer Senior covered similar ground about the pleasure and agony of adult friendships, but with a more heartbreaking perspective. Platonic has conflict — especially when Sylvia’s husband Charlie (Bros’ Luke Macfarlane) feels like a third wheel in his own marriage — but by keeping things light, the show expresses an inherent faith that old friends are worth the risk. Take the aforementioned raccoon incident: Will and Sylvia goad each other into starting a home-repair project in Sylvia’s garage, which uncovers the furry little guy.

    The ensuing hijinks balance Charlie’s fury when he runs out and sees what’s happening. His anger is treated seriously, and so is Sylvia’s honest response about why she needs Will to help her cut loose. Eventually, though, the raccoon saunters through for one more cameo, and the show returns to its lighthearted baseline. This kind of punchline always arrives after something heavy goes down, but it doesn’t feel like the series is glossing over the hard stuff. This is just the type of show that believes kindness and good humor can win out in the end.

    Platonic is also generous with the supporting characters. Charlie, for instance, is more than an exasperated husband: He’s a good-hearted guy with his own struggles and his own close friends, and in a scene where he earnestly sings “Danny Boy” at Will’s bar, the joke is about how much people like it, not how foolish Charlie seems. Meanwhile, Will and Sylvia have fleshed-out relationships with other people, which keeps the story from becoming hermetically sealed around them. In fact, there’s a connection between two of their friends that blossoms into a lovely romance, allowing Platonic to venture into sweetheart territory without violating Will and Sylvia’s dynamic.

    These stories are even more satisfying because Delbanco and Stoller, who also direct most of the episodes, give them such a witty visual language. When Sylvia is anxious about calling one of Charlie’s associates for a job interview, the camera keeps zooming in on his business card like it’s the murder weapon in a Hitchcock film. When Charlie decides to be impulsive and get a terrible dye job, we see his co-worker’s reactions from his point of view, and their embarrassment is even funnier because it’s framed at eye-level. We have nowhere to look but right in their horrified faces; we also can see the thoughtfulness and craft that make Platonic such a joy.

    The first three episodes of Platonic premiere May 24 on Apple TV+. New episodes stream Wednesdays. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Platonic, Apple TV+, Luke Macfarlane, Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen