Still Up review: Craig Roberts and Antonia Thomas are utterly charming
The new Apple TV+ comedy may not have you in stitches, but it certainly has heart to spare.
When it comes to audience response, comedy can have something of a hard time.
People go into watching a comedy with one specific outcome in mind - they want to laugh, consistently and thoroughly, and if they don't then the piece is considered a failure.
This isn't the case for drama. If you watch an emotional beat but don't find yourself in tears, you don't blame the series - and this doesn't mean your expectations haven't been met.
All this is to say, the truth is that Apple TV+ series Still Up isn't that funny.
Sure, it has funny moments. It's never unfunny, it doesn't leave you with that sort of cringing, uncomfortable feeling of something trying to make you laugh and failing. It's just not gut-bustingly hilarious.
But a few episodes in, I found I had to re-adjust my expectations, because Still Up was winning on a completely different level. Without even realising it was happening, it had got me hooked.
First off, the series has a fundamentally engaging concept. It follows Lisa and Danny, two best friends who both suffer from insomnia, so stay up throughout the night talking to each other on the phone or on video call.
The concept is strengthened by an additional wrinkle, that Danny also suffers from agoraphobia, so is confined to his flat. This means Lisa and Danny never meet up, they're never physically in the same place.
Each episode will then have its own self-contained storyline almost exclusively taking place at night, whether it's following Danny as he gets ready for a virtual interview or Lisa as she gets lost on a night out. The pair then depend on each other to get the other out of scrapes, or simply provide a sounding board for their neuroses and foibles.
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All the while, it's clear these two should be together - they fit perfectly, sharing a sense of humour, a view of the world and a deep love for one another. They're just not together, and a large part of the series revolves around the question of whether they ever will be.
The idea of a persistent 'will-they-won't-they' romcom could sound grating and unfulfilling, but Still Up is never that, largely thanks to its two immensely likeable leads.
Speaking with RadioTimes.com, the show's executive producers remarked that they cast Craig Roberts as Danny in part because they and the show's writers loved his role in Submarine. That much is clear in the writing here, and in every line delivery Roberts gives, which channels Oliver Tate (although Danny is significantly more likeable).
The script and the character plays directly into Roberts's greatest strengths as an actor, as he makes Danny a concoction of nervous energy and rash decision-making, while still making him effortlessly endearing.
Meanwhile, Thomas is equally brilliant, playing perfectly off Roberts's energy and not letting him run away with the laughs. Despite not having as distinct of a comedy background, her Lisa is just as funny as Danny, and just as charming, and their chemistry is undeniable.
With most of the series being comprised of a selection free-wheeling conversations between the two of them, their dynamic lends the series its tone, which is warm, sweet and uncynical. Perhaps even more so than Apple's biggest comedy hit Ted Lasso, there's not a nasty, snarky bone in the show's body - it's all positivity and light.
This extends to the series's supporting players, who are oftentimes quirky, absurd and there to get in the central duo's way, but they are never presented as outright villains.
This is no more clear than with the character of Veggie, Lisa's boyfriend, played by a never-better Blake Harrison, best known for playing Neil in The Inbetweeners.
Because we're clearly meant to root for Danny and Lisa to get together, the fact she is with Veggie could easily mean that we root against him, not least because its clear he and Lisa are not quite right for each other. There's a lot about their tempos, their energies and certainly their sense of humour that just doesn't gel.
However, the writers neatly sidestep the trope of the boyfriend we should root against, and instead make Veggie a positive, infectiously optimistic figure, whose bouts of jealousy around Lisa and Danny's closeness is perfectly justified.
This isn't a Lee and Dawn situation from The Office - it's clear why these two would be together, and could be together happily. It's just also clear that there's a better match available.
There are also plenty of other brilliant guest stars who pop up throughout the series, none of whom we'll spoil here, but all of whom fit neatly into this lightly comic, oftentimes bizarre nighttime world.
Ultimately, if you're looking for big belly laughs or outrageous hijinks, this might not be the show you're after. Coming into the first couple of episodes, the low-level, amiable tone can be something to get used to.
However, once you get to know the characters and start to root for them, just spending time in their presence is reward enough.
Therefore, if you're unsure on whether to stick with Still Up after the first episode or two, I would recommend you keep going. It's a series which only gets stronger the further you delve into it, and by the time you reach the finale, you will not only be left with a warm, fuzzy feeling, but also a real longing to see these characters again.
Still Up starts streaming on Apple TV+ on Friday 22nd September, with new episodes arriving weekly. You can sign up to Apple TV+ here.
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