Neil Patrick Harris is back in the sitcom business and this latest foray is a welcome change of pace to his earlier work in the genre. While How I Met Your Mother still has its fans, the show's heightened reality and questionable characters make it an acquired taste, which has arguably aged even less gracefully than its precursor Friends. It's a relief, then, that Uncoupled is an altogether more grounded show by comparison, even if it does take a few episodes to find its footing.
The series follows Michael Lawson (Harris), a high-flying New York City estate agent who seems to have the perfect life: a beautiful home, plenty of friends and a loving partner of 17 years in hedge fund manager Colin (Tuc Watkins). Things quickly fall apart, however, when Colin walks out without any warning on his 50th birthday, leaving Michael utterly heartbroken and faced with the daunting prospect of diving back into the dating pool. It's a journey of healing, but also education, with the world being almost unrecognisable from the last time he was single.
There's one aspect of this premise that doesn't work, and it's Michael's professional life. The opening episodes spend a fair amount of time on his day job dealing luxurious multimillion dollar condos and fretting over eye-popping commissions, with his opulent lifestyle detracting from the hapless everyman persona he adopts during his romantic misadventures. Indeed, Michael and his pals sometimes feel like Selling Sunset rejects, particularly when making catty remarks about jobs they deem lesser with no self-awareness – a peculiar choice for a show that leans, to any extent, on relatability.
Fortunately, this storyline gradually fades into the background across the eight-episode season, with Michael's far more compelling journey of self-discovery becoming the key focus. Uncoupled throws him into a wide variety of comical scenarios, from Grindr hook-ups (both good and bad) to more serious dating and even a weekend at a gay ski resort. It's fun to watch our newly single – and not ready to mingle – Michael navigate these situations, with Harris bringing real humanity and, at times, poignancy to his performance.
Their occasional flickers of elitism notwithstanding, Michael's friends are also a likeable bunch, with some exciting new faces in the supporting cast. The largely unknown Emerson Brooks plays charming weather presenter Billy, whose sex-positive lifestyle makes him well primed to guide Michael through his new life as a singleton. There's also Brooks Ashmanskas, who may be familiar to theatre buffs, but his limited screen credits will make this an introduction to most viewers. It's a strong first impression, with art dealer Stanley being a more sensitive soul, which allows for an enjoyably varied dynamic when all three are together.
Tisha Campbell also stars as Michael's colleague and friend Suzanne, who's given some clunky material towards the start of the season but comes into her own in the second half with some scene-stealing line delivery. Marcia Gay Harden's client-turned-friend Claire comes closest to How I Met Your Mother syndrome, with her larger-than-life portrayal of a super-rich middle-aged divorcee skirting the limits of believability. But even she finds a more comfortable level towards the end of the run. Indeed, in reference to her unlikely new acquaintance, Suzanne makes this (possibly meta?) comment: "You're not going to like her at first, but you'll warm up as the night goes on." My thoughts exactly.
Notably, all of these characters are placed in surprising, dramatic binds by the season finale, which beautifully sets up a potential second outing that I sincerely hope does come to fruition. Uncoupled is an authentic depiction of modern dating from an underserved perspective, with Harris delivering big on both comedic and emotional scenes. While not a perfect debut by any means, sitcoms often need time to find their sweet spot and this show does so faster than most.
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