Uncoupled, Netflix. The Most Hated Man on the Internet, Netflix
Uncoupled was one of those annoying words which entered the argot a few years ago – possibly popularised by Gwyneth Paltrow during her split from yer man from Coldplay – and was meant to indicate moving on from one’s significant other in a calm and respectful fashion.
In the new Netflix series of that name, Michael (Neil Patrick Harris) makes a valiant stab at such an orderly exit when he finds that his long-term partner Colin (Tuc Watkins) packs up all his stuff one night – including, shock horror, the Hermes towels! – and moves out. Michael presses on with the giant 50th birthday surprise party he’s organised for Colin (which devolves into a festival of cringe) and the pair enter couples therapy together. But it soon becomes clear that they are flogging a dead horse.
When Michael’s best friend Suzanne spots the ex canoodling with Michael’s arch-rival at work (a deliciously condescending Tyler Hawkins) he knows it’s over for sure and that he’s facing into the horror of putting his past-their-sell-by-date goods back on the dating market.
The series comes to us already battered by bad reviews from the States and it’s not difficult to understand why. A better name for it might have been ‘Backlash’. It’s courtesy of Darren Star, who recently served up television atrocities like Emily in Paris and the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, and clearly a lot of people are not ready to move on from the horror of those.
There’s also a sense that it might be a bit premature. After all the feel-good shows about gay relationships over the last few years – and the legalisation of gay marriage on both sides of the Atlantic – we might not be ready for the era of gay divorce yet. “Mean” is a descriptor for the series that has come up quite a lot.
As with Sex and the City itself, Uncoupled has an unlikeable central character. Like Carrie, Michael seems narcissistic and self absorbed while his friends are being casually hilarious all around him. In place of the wounded dignity you might expect, a painfully underweight Patrick Harris plays the character with a kind of frantic energy.
And, yet, for actual gays who have had to deal with any sort of midlife moving on, there is so much to enjoy here. Uncoupled is actually far superior to any of Star’s recent work. While it has his trademark sheen – the gorgeous Manhattan skylines, the glossy parties; it ventures into gritty corners that few mainstream shows have touched and is full of uproarious bon mots.
When Michael’s friends urge him to download Grindr (a gay dating app) he pleads that he wants his “first time with someone new to be special” and one of them quips to him “honey, special is when you arrive at the door and they still want to have sex with you.”
The differences between going back on the market as a middle-aged gay man and a middle-aged straight woman are brilliantly explored in a friendship Michael strikes up with one of his work clients, who has been left by her husband (“just admit it, as a man you will always have it easier!” she snarls at him). And the prissy judgment that Michael has about millennial mores – he lectures one of his young conquests about using PrEP (a HIV-prevention medication) – feels drawn from real life.
In recent years we’ve had quite a few series – both drama and documentary – that have explored the wild west of the early internet. The Most Hated Man on the Internet begins a generation after Pam & Tommy and its origin story of revenge porn, but focuses on another moment when technology seemed to outstride morals and law.
In 2010 Hunter Moore, the embodiment of every sociopathic ‘bro’ to walk the earth, set up a website called Is Anyone Up?. Through it he posted explicit pictures of ex-girlfriends and invited others to do the same. He destroyed lives and terrorised women until one of his victims – Kayla Laws – and her mother Charlotte, decided to take him on. In the face of threats from Moore and his followers, they involved the FBI and Moore is now serving time in prison.
It should be a happy ending but the body of this series, with its blur of tears and pixilated violation, is so deeply depressing, that it’s hard to enjoy the pay-off when it comes.
Dear old Liza Minnelli once said she hoped there wouldn’t be any “trashy” TV about her old mucker and designer to the stars, Halston. Lets’s hope she never saw this gloriously trashy and often very funny series, starring Ewan McGregor as the titular character.
Tales of the City
Armistead Maupin is kind of like the gay American Maeve Binchy. He managed to tackle the big issues of the day while retaining an essential warmth in his writing. This fantastic series, starring a young Laura Linney, brought his work to the screen better than any other.
It’s a Sin
All4 / RTÉ2 on Thursdays
There was a period when I couldn’t watch another gay drama that had AIDS as a theme (for a lot of the 1990s that’s all there was), but this funny, poignant series, set at the height of the 1980s epidemic, never feels encumbered by its weighty subject. Brilliant on every level.