I felt compelled to pause the new Apple TV+ comedy Platonic one minute into the first episode. The series is about old friends reconnecting after half a decade, and it immediately cut too close. In the show, Will is recently divorced, and his best friend Sylvia is happily married with three kids. Currently exiting a marriage myself, minutes before watching I had been drawing up long, long overdue plans to meet a beloved friend after years, a friend who gets my puns and pipes in with her own (better) ones, a delightful friend with—you guessed it—three kids. The timing couldn’t have been more uncanny. Or more perfect.
Platonic, created by Nicholas Stoller and Francesca Delbanco, is an exploration of the question When Harry Met Sally asked all those years ago—“Can a man and a woman ever be friends?”—yet chose not to answer, conveniently culminating in romance. Friendship, which has never been about happy endings, is harder. Friendship as a 40-something is particularly complicated—full of scheduling and motives and conflicts and venn diagrams involving various exes—but, as we know, well worth all battles. Not that anybody watching from the outside would understand.
Nobody quite gets Sylvia (Rose Byrne) and Will (Seth Rogen). Will was maid of honour at Sylvia’s wedding, and the two share a bizarrely lateral camaraderie: She steals a lizard for him, he talks her out of buying a nightmarish house. They enable and indulge each other and this is what the others—Sylvia’s husband, Will’s work colleagues—consider destructive. A friendship is also a time machine, and by doing what we did in our 20s with friends from that time, we dive back into that life for a while. We keep our younger, sillier, less anxious, less sleep-deprived selves alive.
Platonic is about how much that matters.
Rogen is back to being Rogen—after going the other way in projects like Pam & Tommy—and it’s a treat to watch this slacker on a TV show, episode after episode, with that iconically goofy laugh and the ability to make brilliant wisecracks sound like stoned spurts. “Half an hour?” Will asks, shocked by how long Sylvia and her husband have sex. “That’s like Modern Family, with commercials!” Will, who crafts artisanal beers, is a man-child pretending to be evolved, speaking of “conscious uncoupling” but also breaking into his ex-wife’s house. With his bleached hair and utter distaste for electric scooters, the character only works because of Sylvia.
Rose Byrne, who played Rogen’s wife in the movie Neighbors and its sequel (directed by series co-creator Stoller) is superlative in Platonic as a woman who feels constricted by the monotony of her life and she embraces this old, familiar equation with escapist gusto. One unforgettable moment involves a highly intoxicated Sylvia claiming to be furious but smiling blissfully: “Shame on you,” she grins. “I’m very angry. I’m livid at you.” Her dynamic with Rogen is effortless and breezy, the actress making Sylvia completely unselfconscious around Will, but visibly on edge the rest of the time, like when going for a job interview and trying to avoid looking like “a young Angela Merkel”.
Sylvia’s husband Charlie (Luke Macfarlane) is as understanding as he is handsome, but even this sweet man feels shafted by Will and Sylvia’s hi-jinks. He isn’t invited. Colleagues at his law firm have started referring to Will as Charlie’s “wife’s boyfriend”, and while he sustains the joke, he starts to suspect that it is, indeed, on him. Will considers Charlie dull—“If there was a Pixar movie about a glass of water, they’d cast him,” he says, when Sylvia isn’t around—but he acknowledges that this is the reliable, rock-solid man his friend needs.
From the outside, Will and Sylvia appear to have a dysfunctionally codependent relationship… and that’s fine. It honestly doesn’t matter how anybody else scrutinises or suspects or perceives it because these two people know what they have. The concept is so straightforward—and the chemistry of the actors so charming—that it feels odd more shows don’t feature friends without the “will-they-won’t-they” question forever looming overhead. Will and Sylvia have each other’s backs, and sometimes that means confrontation and avoidance and calling each other out. Sometimes it means listening. Mostly, it means inside-jokes nobody else will get—or deserves to get.
Platonic is a fresh, empathetic comedy that occasionally gets too nutty, but never tries too hard. Sylvia offers to be Will’s “wing-lass”, and Will ignores a Call Of Duty analogy by saying, “I don’t know what any of that means because I’m over 12 years old.” Well, barely. A friendship, like any relationship where you elect to prize another’s happiness above your own, also involves babysitting. In the really good ones, you can’t tell who’s babysitting whom.
I keep thinking of the Cake song Friend Is A Four-Letter Word, an anti-ballad about the death knell to romance, the “just friends” tag which hurts so bad that the very idea sounds profane. What Platonic gets right-est is the fact that there is nothing “just”—in either sense—about friendship. It is messy, fantastic, unpredictable. The friend I look forward to meeting again had once baked me snickerdoodles because my favourite comic-book character had died—that’s as good as it gets. This unconditionality is unique and deserves celebration. Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to ride or die.