There’s nothing wrong with a gay Rom-Com, but I wish I could relate to ‘Uncoupled’: Netflix’s new series starring Neil Patrick Harris attempts to depict the lives of aging gay men in the world’s greatest city, but it’s just too unreliable
It’s comforting to know that the days of gay characters being only comical sidekicks in series about straight people are over; and that gay actors can now use their profession to tell stories that are more reminiscent of their personal experiences. If only that were the case.
Jeffrey Richman and Darren Star, creators of HBO’s phenomenon ‘Sex and the City’ and Netflix’s mega-hit ‘Emily in Paris’, are back again to join forces and tell yet another fancy, luxurious series that just doesn’t want you to actually relate to it. Well, not if you’re a gay man.
‘Uncoupled’ follows Neil Patrick Harris as Michael Lawson, a man in his 40s who lives a fairly comfortable, almost perfect life: he lives in a spacious apartment in New York City, works as a real estate agent for luxury properties and has been in a 17-year relationship with his handsome and wealthier partner Colin (Tuc Watkins). The series begins on Colin’s 50th birthday, and Michael is ecstatic about the lavish surprise party he’s planning for him. But, just before the event begins, Colin informs Michael, who is taken aback, that he has moved out of their shared apartment. Just like that, without explaining or letting us, the viewers, know anything about what made him take this rather rapid decision.
Later on, the series’ episodes follow Michael as he deals with the unexpected crisis and attempts to adjust to his single life. This he achieves with the help of his devoted friends: Billy (Emerson Brooks), a weather forecaster and eligible bachelor, Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas), a successful art collector who lacks romantic success, and Susan (Tisha Campbell), a single mom who works with Michael in the real estate brokerage office.
The three encourage Michael to get over the unexpected breakup, but he can’t stop thinking about Colin for more than a minute and a half. But do we finally get to know why Colin dumped him? Not yet. Michael, who hasn’t been in the dating scene in nearly two decades, is now aware of how much it has changed: he’s horrified by the bluntness and directness that characterizes Grindr users, for example, or gets furious at a guy who tries to convince him to go bareback.
The series presents the old and classic stereotype of urban gays, mature and rich, without infusing it with personalities; Billy and Stanley are nothing more than underdeveloped prototypes, and they don’t contribute much beyond empty talk about sex or lack thereof. Michael is also far from sympathetic, and his character goes through one of the most painful experiences: adjusting to life alone, in a very flashy but rather superficial way.
Make no mistake: ‘Uncoupled’ is a gay-themed series, but it’s not a series FOR gays. Other than being full of clichés, it seems to me that ‘Uncoupled’ depicts the lives of many men in the LGBT community in a rather judgmental manner while employing heteronormative means to convey the message to Netflix’s straight viewers.
What’s left is a sexy and inauthentic New York City setting, in a world that exists only within a bubble of rich gays explaining Grindr or Dick Pics to straight people. And in a world where straight people have long participated in the virtual celebration of dating via popular dating apps and appear to have even sent such a revealing photo themselves, it appears that the abstract explanation only reinforces the fact that this is a very specific type of series.
One moment of credibility that emerges comes from the series’ perspective about late-life bachelors. However, despite the many attempts, you can’t learn much about the life of aging gay men in Manhattan from Michael and his friends, any more than you can learn about Paris from Emily’s life in ‘Emily in Paris’.
At the end of the day, if we ignore its many flaws, ‘Uncoupled’ is a positive development; if the way to normalize forms of life is to filter them through the lens of romantic comedy, this series has simply nailed it. Besides, I have to admit that it’s fun binge-watching with occasional laughs here and there, mostly thanks to the brilliant Tisha Campbell as Susan, a straight woman who manages to be the most relatable character in this gay-themed series. I wish she would tell us why the hell Colin left Michael.