It’s a big year for the gay romcom. In September, there’s the arrival of Billy Eicher’s Bros, the first romantic comedy from a major studio featuring two gay men in leading roles, plus a principal cast made up of entirely LGBTQ+ actors. Now, there’s also Netflix’s new Neil Patrick Harris-starring Uncoupled – a show about a gay man called Michael who is thrown into dating turmoil in his mid-40s after his partner of 17 years leaves him.
Sex and the City mastermind Darren Star is one of the creators behind Uncoupled, fresh from his work on love-it-or-loathe-it smash Emily in Paris. Thankfully, his new series leans more towards the former than the latter. It explores the landscape of the current gay dating scene in a fresh and funny way, with a few brilliant escapades that Carrie Bradshaw and Co would be proud of.
We follow Michael as he attempts to rebuild his life following the break-up, navigating the often brutal world of online dating. It’s here where the comedy is at its funniest, and you can feel the hand of the show’s other creator – Frasier producer Jeffrey Richman – most clearly. Whether it be watching Michael navigate the difficulties of taking a dick pic for Grindr or declaring that one app “should be called un-hinged”, his exploits with pals Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas), Billy (Emerson Brooks) and Suzanne (Tisha Campbell) by his side are a blast. Harris’ strongest suit is in treading the line between the comic and the tragic. Some of the scenes where he unravels are genuinely moving and relatable, as are emotive moments with Harris’ older, bereaved gay neighbour.
There’s the occasional sex scene, but they’re nowhere near as bold as those Russell T Davies brought to screens almost 20 years ago in Queer As Folk, or more recently It’s A Sin. Both those shows trod the line between comedy and serious comment skilfully too, but here, in the hands of Richman and Star, it’s a clumsier affair. Several episodes seem to want to make a point about issues like safe sex and mental health, for instance, but the message fails to land in any meaningful way because of how quickly the matters are batted away.
There are also some cringe-inducing, hide-behind-a-cushion worthy one-liners about wealth and class that come straight out of Sex and the City’s most elitist bits. The characters are, typically for Star, extremely wealthy, own huge apartments and spend most of their time drinking cocktails and visiting art galleries. While this might have fitted the bombast of the early noughties, here it feels painfully out of touch during a cost-of-living crisis.
Despite the promise of the early episodes, Uncoupled suffers in its second half from a lack of firm identity, treading too carefully and, bafflingly, offering no explanation about why Michael and his partner broke up in the first place – which is crucical to understand Michael’s subsequent breakdown. The series ends on a cliffhanger and a promise of a new season. We’ll be watching, but there’s definitely room for improvement.
‘Uncoupled’ streams on Netflix from July 29