Tuesday night saw Darren Star (Sex and the City, Younger, Emily In Paris) and Jeffrey Richman’s (Modern Family) new Netflix comedy series Uncoupled, starring Neil Patrick Harris, premiere at New York’s iconic Paris Theater, followed by a glitzy cocktail reception at the nearby Plaza Hotel. The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann was on the stylish grey carpet at the event to speak with the creators and cast about the show, which follows luxury Manhattan real estate agent Michael (Harris) as he deals with the aftermath of a sudden uncoupling from his romantic partner, Colin (Tuc Watkins).
“It’s about a gay man entering middle age being unexpectedly single”, co-creator Darren Star tells The Queer Review. “He’s finding himself having to start over at approaching 50 and rediscovering what dating is all about now”.
“We wanted to write a romantic comedy with a gay lead”, adds Uncoupled co-creator Jeffrey Richman. “We thought of the lowest place we could start him at. His partner of 17 years wakes up one day and says, ‘I’m gone, it’s over, and I don’t want to talk about it’. We both knew longterm gay couples that that had happened to and I thought that was so fascinating; that the person who you trust most in the world is capable of doing that. How do you dig yourself out of that and have a life again? That’s how it started.”
Uncoupled marks Star and Richman’s first television collaboration. “We’ve known each other a little”, shares Richman, “And obviously we were big fans of each other. Our mutual agent in the middle of Covid said, ‘You two should write a show together’. Then it just evolved from there and it was the happiest partnership of my life. We have different skills and we complemented each other in a really great way. He was the greatest partner in the world.”
Reflecting on why he wanted to cast Harris, Star enthuses, “He’s just a brilliant performer. He brings so much depth, so much intelligence, and so much heart”. Richman concurs, praising the Emmy and Tony-winning star for the “authenticity” he brings to Michael. “He’s so impossibly skilled and comically agile. You can throw anything at him and he’ll think of 10 brilliant ways to do it”, continues Richman who was also full of admiration for the rest of the Uncoupled cast. “Tisha Campbell as Michael’s partner Suzanne is unbelievable; so funny, so real. Brooks Ashmanskas and Emerson Brooks as his friends came together on the first day, and it was like they had been friends for decades. Then to top it off, we have Marcia Gay Harden—an Oscar and Tony winner, and all-around icon—we just got so lucky. She’s hilarious.”
“I like the notion of men getting to show emotion in a breakup”, muses Neil Patrick Harris, considering what enticed him to become involved in the series. “Historically, breakup shows have been female-based; you have a woman who is broken up with or has been broken up with, and they’re innately maybe more emotional and the guy’s not. But with two gay guys, you have emotion all over the place and so you’re able to relate to it in a different way. I think we take the piss out of the situation enough that you are laughing and then all of a sudden you’re hit with emotion. It’s a good balance, sort of like life.”
“I think it’s interesting that we live in a time when you can tell a breakup story that’s about a same-sex couple and it still feels relatable. That has a lot to do with Darren Star and a lot to do with the writing.” Harris’ co-star Emerson Brooks, who plays TV weatherman Billy, agrees, “It’s told through the eyes of a 40-something gay man, but it’s a universal story about a breakup and getting kicked to the curb. How do you navigate that? How do you deal with that? How do you see yourself to the other side of that? Hopefully you have some good friends around you like my character to get you through that struggle. When I first read the script, I absolutely fell in love with the character; he’s so positive and optimistic. He isn’t caught up in stereotypes or tropes. It’s someone who I saw in myself, so I didn’t have to go that far to play Billy.”
Throughout the season, Michael is supported by his gay best friends. An aspect of the show that Tony-nominee Brooks Ashmanskas, who plays gallery owner Stanley, is particularly proud of. “I think it’s wonderful and I also do think it’s very true. I certainly have a lot of gay friends who I’m not sleeping with, alas! I think we lean on our chosen family in our community, and desperately so. We need each other. I think this series celebrates that and really points it up in a great way. Our friends who are within the same community know what we are going through even more than most.”
Tuc Watkins found himself able to relate to the situation that Michael finds himself in. “I’m a single gay guy later in life. I’ve experienced a breakup after a number of years. I know what it’s like to get out there and go on to the dating apps, and it’s terrifying. But you know what, sometimes you get smacked by life right in the face and it’s better to go through it than around it, because if you try to go around it, it’s going to bite you in the ass later anyway!”
“I thought it’d be a real challenge to reconcile the behavior of a guy who dumps his partner of 17 years with no explanation”, continues Watkins, considering what the draw of the role of Colin was for him. “What kind of guy does that? And yet, that’s exactly what my character does. He does have a reason, but that reason doesn’t get explored until later in the season.”
“What is so great about the evolution of gay representation on TV”, reflects Watkins, “Is that we’re usually introduced to minorities through their issues. With gay people it was coming out and HIV/AIDS. Then we progressed to the gay clown, or the terribly troubled friend, or the psychopath. Then we got into aspirational characters where we were painted as the one-dimensional, nice best friend. Now we’re finally at the point where we can be flawed and funny and more three-dimensional. Part of that representation is that gay guys are sometimes friends with each other, not in relationships with each other. It’s great that in something like Uncoupled we see different kinds of queer relationships.”
Thinking about the gay screen representation that has had the biggest impact on him, Ashmanskas shares, “I’m not young, and so it was a lot of AIDS stuff, because that’s what was going on, like Longtime Companion and An Early Frost. I’ve actually thought a lot about those films and just how far we’ve come while working on this show.”
“One of the most groundbreaking shows that I remember watching was Queer As Folk“, adds Emerson Brooks. “It was on a main platform and it wasn’t apologizing for anything. It was really showing the world a side of queerness that you didn’t get to see before. It wasn’t the disturbed sad neighbour, the sick friend, or the magical friend, or the witty friend with good advice. It was human beings living their lives unapologetically and fully. I think Uncoupled is a progression and a continuation of the groundbreaking work that has been done for the last generation.”
Uncoupled launches globally on Netflix on Friday, July 29th 2022.