Dating in the era of apps can be its own special kind of frustrating, but, according to the new Netflix comedy Uncoupled (★★★☆☆), it’s especially hard out here for a single gay man of a certain age.
Whereas “a certain age” might, in more agreeable times, have meant truly middle-aged or at least gracefully senior, now, apparently, we’re all ancient after 40.
So, Uncoupled‘s busy, fortysomething real estate broker Michael — unceremoniously dumped by his partner Colin, after 17 seemingly happy years together — has a steep learning curve to catch up with all the ins and outs of hooking up and hanging out now that he’s single again.
Embodied in all his ripe ambition and sexuality by Neil Patrick Harris, Michael is caught completely off-guard by Colin (Tuc Watkins) packing up and leaving. But the show drops hints that he perhaps should have detected something was off — namely, the fact that Colin, uneasy about turning 50, was in no mood to celebrate the milestone.
Created by uber-successful gay writer-producers Jeffrey Richman (Modern Family) and Darren Star (Sex & the City), Uncoupled has plenty to say about aging, gracefully or not, within the youth-obsessed gay culture.
The series acknowledges, through Michael’s broker partner and bestie Suzanne (Tisha Campbell), that single women over 40 might still have it harder.
In fact, Michael’s fabulously wealthy client, Claire (a delightful Marcia Gay Harden), also recently dumped, insists that women at any age are more ruthlessly judged by their appearance and other superficial aspects.
As if accepting a challenge, Michael responds that we’ll just have to see about that. Okay, Mike. It doesn’t help his argument that he has no trouble finding dates and hookups, whether it’s on Grindr, where he’s totally new to dick pic etiquette, or just on the street in front of the grocery store. Hot guys are falling all over him, flirting at the gym, inviting him to the hot tub at a gay ski weekend.
Harris sells the juxtaposition of Michael’s knowing, cynical exterior ruptured by the sharp, devastating pain of the split with Colin, but he’s not so convincing as the poster boy for Maturing Gays. Frequently undressed on the show (prepare yourselves, Doogie fans), Michael is fit and youthful, and, as one friend points out, gainfully employed.
As Seinfeld‘s “The Wait Out” episode perfectly illustrated, there’s probably a long line of singles who’ve been waiting for years for their shot at either Michael or Colin, and now’s their chance.
The show doesn’t go there, but instead puts Michael through the paces of a succession of dates that all go wrong in their own ways. One guy, who’s on PrEP, doesn’t want to wear a condom — a no-go for Michael. Another wants to botox Michael’s butthole to better accommodate the guy’s girth.
These certainly are modern problems, and often Michael doesn’t just seem opposed to present-day mores but altogether unaware of how gays are interacting these days. There’s a detectable note of, at best, prudishness and, at worst, sex shaming in his mindset running through the show, which still wants to eat its cake too, with plenty of onscreen man-on-man action.
Uncoupled seems to want to compensate for its upfront gay sexuality by making its gay characters as palatable as possible in every other regard.
Michael and his friends are all cisgender, financially successful, mainstream homos. His pal Billy (Emerson Brooks), a TV weatherman, is told by an admirer that he would never have guessed that the newsman isn’t straight. Billy takes this as a compliment.
And Michael tosses out his own gay-shaming joke, playfully chiding a friend over the phone, “Please no squealing, Eric. You’re the reason blue states turn red.” Some will find that funny. Thankfully, there’s sharper comedy than that, mostly from supporting characters like Jonah Platt as bitchy German realtor Horst, and Broadway legend André De Shields as Michael’s saucy neighbor Jack, an actual gay elder.
The cast of characters gets more entertaining as the season progresses, and it should progress quickly for binge-watchers. The episodes are well-constructed to deliver on the show’s themes while advancing the plot with bite-sized moments and juicy cliffhangers, including one in the first season finale, a compelling setup for Michael’s potential next season of love.
All eight episodes of Uncoupled are available on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.
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