‘Platonic’ Proves That Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen Can Be Too Good Together

As a team, Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen by themselves could will anything to watchability. If anything, the new Apple TV+ show “Platonic” is a showcase for the things that each of them are unspeakably good at doing. Byrne (here, playing listless and married mother of three Sylvia) is a physical comedy sorceress, turning everything from the process of getting ready in the morning to being repulsed by reptiles into its own distinct kind of laugh. Rogen (Will, a recent divorcee and brewmaster at a trendy downtown LA pub) paints with rants and references like a gravelly voiced watercolorist, rattling off reasons to be upset or angry like he’s capturing a Parisian countryside.

Spending years apart after a falling out, Will’s crumbling marriage gives Sylvia a chance to catch up. No ulterior motive, just a chance for two close friends to not be completely banished from each other’s lives. A rocky restart gradually gives way to more and more reminders of the fun of years past and soon, the pair are escaping their seemingly droll lives to find an escape together in different — and yes, platonic — ways. “Platonic” is centered around a conundrum: While the two actors are unlocking their combined powers, Sylvia and Will are slowly coaxing out each other’s self-destructive tendencies, even while they’re having a blast together.

They fight each other’s middle-aged ennui with nights on the town, creative uses for rentable scooters, and lunchtime trips to kitschy-themed restaurants while Sylvia’s kids are in school. Along the way, the easiness forged by two “Neighbors” movies between Byrne, Rogen, and director Nicholas Stoller (a co-creator on the series along with Francesca Delbanco) makes for plenty of good hangs. You can see why it’s so easy for these two to get lost in riffing text exchanges and dares across and beyond the Arts District. Even as some of Will and Sylvia’s choices seem completely ill-advised, there’s a comfort in seeing how little it takes for this combo to be compelling.

“Platonic” ends up being something that isn’t necessarily too much of a good thing, but more miss than hit beyond the surefire duo at its center. One of the series’ big pivot points is Sylvia’s Ken-doll-lawyer husband Charlie, played affably by Luke Macfarlane but ultimately empty almost by design. He’s not enough of a wet blanket that Sylvia ever sees Will as the superior life partner, but Charlie still has to represent a kind of void that Sylvia would need to replace in some form elsewhere. Charlie’s general inoffensiveness does get some help in the form of fellow law firm colleagues Stewart (Guy Branum) and Vanessa (Janet Varney). But those side tangents only end up reinforcing why the Will/Sylvia dynamic works so much. Sylvia and Will is a team-up that makes for great TV. Sylvia and Charlie make for a solid marriage, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. “Platonic” plays with that tension enough to find the reality inside it, but never really has more to say beyond pointing out the disconnect.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in “Platonic”Paul Sarkis

With most of the show happening inside bars and living rooms, “Platonic” does take the odd chance to venture out into Los Angeles for some hijinks among friends. If this show gets close to the Byrne-Rogen energy in scenes that aren’t restricted to the two of them, it’s in a handful of chaotic group outings. Those generally fall into two camps. When it comes from Will and/or Sylvia spurring everyone involved to see where the night may lead, “Platonic” gets closer to that ideal shagginess that can sustain a low-premise sitcom for seasons and seasons. When those adventures seem grafted on in order to draw out some other source of conflict than “two adults not married to each other hanging out a lot,” that’s when the show begins to drag and meander. That latter batch feels more like hearing about Will or Sylvia’s problems and anxieties secondhand rather than sharing in the moment with any of the folks on screen.

For the most part, “Platonic” is a competently done series of tiny midlife crises. Will starts dating again and finds out he’s ill-equipped to be with someone of any adult age. Sylvia starts interrogating the reasons why she gave up a career in favor of a bigger family. It’s not untrodden territory, but get these two to start throwing character names from “The Sound of Music” around like javelins and suddenly it all starts to spring to life.

Of course, there’s a Nora Ephron-written elephant in the room when it comes to whether Sylvia and Will can spend that much time around each other, invested in snapping each other out of their respective funks, and not have that morph into a different kind of feelings. There’s a “When Harry Met Sally” name drop in the first episode and a later episode makes another nod to it, but aside from that, “Platonic” is more focused on angst than lust. It’s less a question of if they would fit as a couple and more “Why would they want to?” The characters seem to know what these ten episodes also make clear for the audience: The fun comes from the escape, and there’s never as much beyond that as you want there to be.

“Platonic” is clearly rooted in the kind of real anxieties about commitment and friendship and jealousy that can come with being in a long-term relationship or marriage. It asks if having multiple partners that serve different emotional functions is something that people inherently have the capacity to maintain. The answer that “Platonic” gives for most of its season is a playful shrug. It’s shaggy, and sometimes admirable, but if you’re going to take that approach, you better have a stellar, top-to-bottom hangout crew to take it from there.

Grade: B-

The first three episodes of “Platonic” are now available to stream on Apple TV+. New episodes will be available on Wednesdays.

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