Still Up Season 1 Review – Apple TV’s sweet rom-com is a dead rubber

Apple TV’s sweet rom-com is a dead rubber

Season 1

 

 

Episode Guide

Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4/5

When Apple TV’s fall lineup was announced earlier in the year, few would have expected Still Up to have made its mark. There was also confusion among the ranks of critics as to the show’s inclusion on the platform right after the more fancied Platonic starring Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen. One of those prophecies has turned out to be true and it is not the former. At best, Still Up is a sweet rom-com story about two people in love finding their way toward each other. 

But its best moments aren’t enough to salvage a dead rubber affair with negligible urgency or passion. While the prefacing of the central conceit is seamless, Still Up suffers from a lack of clarity in affirming the story’s direction. Perhaps the idea is clearer in the heads of the makers and its communication to the viewers is missing. The latter seems likelier of the two but essentially unwittingly connected. The translation on the screen comes up well short of being convincing or unique. 

Despite being eight episodes long, it always seemed like the show was reaching for a conclusive blow but just couldn’t get there. Its fortunes are comparable with an elusive sales call where the product has potential, the pitch is great, but the salesperson has trouble closing. Still Up’s young stars Antonia Thomas and Craig Roberts get plenty of screen time. Their affable chemistry before the events of the final episode is not suggestive of a romantic angle. And yet, that proves to be the ace up the writers’ sleeve. 

One can arguably give them the benefit of the doubt since in hindsight, the story’s essence is the tagline “two people in love without them knowing it.” But when the time comes, it feels more of a coincidence than an intentional misstep. 

Danny (Roberts) and Lisa’s (Thomas) friendship blossoms in the wee hours of the night when the rest of the world is sleeping. Insomnia is the concert of their bond, although it does go beyond just passing time. Danny, whose last relationship damaged him with a lasting effect, has suffered from severe anxiety and agoraphobia. His condition does not allow him to go outside of the house. The breakup was so epic that Danny hasn’t been able to hold together a relationship since then. 

Lisa, on the contrary, is outgoing and cheerful. It looks like she is in a healthy relationship with Veggie, who works in insurance, but the reality of the situation unravels as the season progresses. The two characters learn more about themselves with each passing incident. Every episode has a central event that gathers their attention in the short term. But the writers also carve out a larger arch that foreshadows the cliffhanger ending.

It is actually quite a neat story format. The primary driver for all the episodes is the brand of non-aggressive, non-offensive, almost vanilla humour that strikingly misses the typical British dryness. The makers have clearly gone for a more modern and wholesome version that matches the tone of the rest of the season. All the technical and creative aspects of Still Up align with each other perfectly to give the show much-needed symmetry. It is something that many projects miss out on… purposely on occasion. But more or less by design.

However, the fact that it comes weeks after Platonic does Season 1 no favours. The comparisons are instant and detrimental to Still Up, which is a show of its own. Not to forget the completely different profiles of actors and the budget. But Platonic’s fresh memory does one-up the series a little bit. One fundamental problem I felt with Season 1 is how Danny and Lisa compare to each other. In my mind, Roberts has the meatier parts of the two actors with a more rooted and relatable arc. There is clarity about how Danny has to come out of his shell and the unstoppable force needed to move that immovable object.

When it comes to Lisa, her choices and personality aren’t as sympathetic. For instance, her decision to reconsider her stable relationship with Veggie or the realization that they aren’t a good fit comes in the absence of thinking about Poppy, her young daughter. In fact, Poppy only features for a brief few minutes in the entire show. She is excluded to the point that I was reminded of her existence while writing this review. The dynamic we wanted to see between the mother and daughter doesn’t show up at all. The creatives fall short of properly characterizing what Lisa’s central conceit is so she can emerge as a better character at the end of the story.

Still Up is a sweet rom-com that comes with pre-determined ideas about the story. In between the “will they, won’t they,” the show loses sight of the ingredients available to make it a special recipe. This starkly affects the storytelling and the ending leaves a lot to be desired. Hence, the classification of the battle of wits in Still Up as a dead rubber.


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