Neil Patrick Harris’ Uncoupled follows a middle-aged man, Michael, who is forced to start over when his partner of 17 years leaves him so abruptly that he believes he’s been robbed when he notices some things missing from their home. Over the course of eight episodes, you watch Michael’s journey through the shock at the disruption of his perfect life, to his ultimate acceptance of it.
Created by Sex and The City’s Darren Star and Jeffery Richman, the series is well, Sex and The City but gay. It takes a look at heartbreak, dating, friendship, parenthood, and more importantly, starting over.
Michael is supposed to be charming and quick-witted, but he is self-centered and judgemental. He blames the whole world around him for his misfortunes, as he sits in spectacular Manhattan apartments, private clubs, art galleries, and ridiculously expensive bars commiserating. Over the course of the season, you watch Michael grow up and learn to move on. And, as he tries to get to the other side, he learns about Grindr, that condoms are so yesterday and apparently Botoxing one’s nether region is an option. His attempts to get back on the saddle create a lot of fodder for humour.
However, Michael is not a character I could bring myself to root for. While I appreciate that he grows up by the end of 8 episodes, I found him extremely whiny. However, I assume when your perfect life is suddenly thrown into the abyss, you have earned yourself the right to whinge. The people that he is paired off with seem like caricatures: the hot guy with inappropriate bedroom requests, or the guy who gets too serious too quickly. While the idea of having to start over when you believed you had the perfect life is strenuous and heartbreaking, I never could find a sense of honest grief in Michael. He comes across as peeved at losing his perfect life than at having lost the love of his life. I could be wrong, but this is where the gaps in the show play a part. While a scene at the therapist’s office is offered as an insight unto Colin (Michael’s ex) and Michael’s incompatibility, not being offered any insight into Colin, their relationship, or anything about them as a couple makes it very difficult to empathize with Michael.
The show is very reminiscent of Sex and The City in more ways than I can count. The glam, the posh lifestyle, the afflictions of the rich are pretty verbatim. And, much like Sex and The City, the show puts a lot of importance on friendship. Michael leans on three people the most during his darkest hours. For me, it is these supporting characters and Michael’s equation with them, and the evolution on that front, that seemed more interesting.
Suzanne, played by Tisha Campbell, complements Michael. She pushes him, supports him and more importantly, keeps him grounded. But she is a star of the show, in her own right. Bold and unapologetic about her life, she is a single mother looking for love.
Then there are Michael’s gay friends, Billy (Emerson Brooks), and Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas). They too remain steadfastly by the side of their dear friend and tolerate his tantrums and expectations, because isn’t that for the most part, what we all do for our friends?
For the first half of the show, it seems like they simply exist to serve as sounding boards for Michael, but as the episodes go on, all three start developing stories of their own. And, if I am being frank, I am more intrigued to see where Season 2 takes them, rather than Michael.
In sharp contrast to Michael, we have Claire (Marcia Gay Harden), who finds herself absolutely alone after her husband leaves her. Her loneliness pushes her to become friends, rather forcibly, with Michael. While the trope of the pushy, millionaire, philanthropist divorcee isn’t necessarily new, Marcia Harden brings a fresh new life to the stereotypical character. Her anger, her cunning, and a certain air that she carries with her are all unique. What also makes her interesting is the contrast she offers in world view. Here we have a crop of people who are woke, “PC” and just living life on the left side of the line. And then comes Claire, coming from an era when gender fluidity wasn’t a concept and yet coming to terms with a daughter who is gender fluid and friends who try to hit on her.
While I wouldn’t say I was floored by the show, I can see that the show is definitely a step in the right direction. I think I might have said this one too many times, but as much as I love stories of coming out, and those of people coming to terms with their sexuality and identity, it always feels so good to see stories from the other side like stories of relationships and heartbreaks – just stories that have been told of countless other heterosexual couples. It is not a show of great depth or revolutionary in any sense, though it does attempt to break the stigma around topics such as male breast cancer. It is something you can watch in the background or binge on a weekend you don’t want to really be using many brain cells. And let’s be honest, we do need shows like that.