Uncoupled (Netflix), the story of a suddenly single gay man having to recalibrate his life in New York City, is what happens when you make subtext text. The new series by Darren Star is essentially a remake of his 1998-2004 megahit Sex and the City, which was itself essentially a comedy-drama about four gay men written as women – because at the turn of the millennium Ellen had only just come out on her sitcom, and Will & Grace was very much considered as far as you could go with gay jokes and cultural truths and whatnot.
Michael (charmingly played by Neil Patrick Harris, last seen on UK small screens breaking our hearts as Henry Coltrane in It’s a Sin) is blissfully happy with Colin (Tuc Watkins), his partner of 17 years. Colin, however, is less so and abruptly leaves him on Colin’s 50th birthday – just as the doors are opened on a surprise party Michael has arranged. Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You plays, to save time in heightening the pathos and dram
If you also want to save time, you can think of Michael as Carrie Bradshaw – he, too, is needy and self-centred, but possessed of enough spark and warmth to keep his friends and his viewers engaged. His friend Billy (Emerson Brooks), a TV weather presenter with a different Grindr-sourced twink on his arm every night, is Samantha. His ex, Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas), is Charlotte – a romantic, who helps keep alive Michael’s hope that Colin is caught in a midlife crisis and will soon come back to him. And his straight talking, take-no-prisoners-but-when-will-she-find-a-man-who-can-love-such-a-strong-woman partner at the estate agent firm, where he works, Suzanne (Tisha Campbell) is, of course, Miranda.
All that’s missing are the zinging, effortless jokes and credible repartee between characters; unless you count Michael’s mother explaining what a metaphorical “curveball” is because it’s a baseball term, or the leaden exchange between Suzanne and Michael as she commiserates over his loss. “Who knew gay guys were just as awful as straight guys?” “Just with better haircuts,” Michael rejoins, presumably because no one realised that second drafts are rarely as awful as first drafts – and that’s why writers generally bother to do them.
Oh, and a decent plot and pacing have gone awol too. Everything is slow, derivative and signposted from a fair few miles away, be it Colin’s pre-party bombshell, the pair’s doomed couple’s counselling session, or Michael’s tentative and equally doomed initial forays on dating apps (awkward dick pics, anyone?) after nearly two decades out of the game.
There are bright spots. One of the main ones is the introduction of Marcia Gay Harden as Claire, a demanding middle-aged client who has 5,000sq ft of Manhattan real estate to sell because her husband has abruptly left her (he went off with his 25-year-old Pilates instructor to enjoy “the second half of his life – because clinically obese men often live to 130”). She livens up proceedings whenever she is on screen, although there is nothing innovative about her character or her storyline. Plus, there are occasional mesmerising turns from the likes of Broadway legend André de Shields (a lifetime of experience and overflowing charisma packed into one small scene in an elevator alone makes episode two worth watching.)
But overall, Uncoupled feels flat and lifeless. It should have been a triumphant return to form for Star, who has been liberated by 2022 mores from all sorts of constraints, but of course it is not always the case that freedom brings out the greatest creativity. Still, we might have expected better than this.