This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
In the first scene of the Netflix series Uncoupled, Neil Patrick Harris and Tuc Watkins, playing partners of 17 years, are in bed and breathless, post-coital after Harris’ Michael had just performed some sort of sexual act for Watkins’ Colin’s birthday. They’re naked. They’re giggling. They make a few jokes about it being satisfying. And I blushed.
I’m a gay man—I don’t want to brag, but a gay man who has been naked in a bed with another gay man before. And yet, I was a little scandalized. Gays! Talking about sex! On my TV screen! I’d clutch my pearls, but that would only be fodder for a cruder joke, considering the topic.
The Daily Beast’s Obsessed
Everything we can’t stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
It is the year of our Oprah 2022, and it still feels like something provocative, polarizing, and maybe even political to make the very first image of a TV series on the world’s most popular streaming service pitched to be a mainstream hit be two men cuddling, kissing, and talking about orgasms. Straights are going to see this! My word!
Of course, there’s nothing particularly scandalous or scandalizing about the scene. It’s actually rather chaste, and would be cliché—how many versions of this scenario with heterosexual couples have we seen before, even in “family-friendly” content—were it not instead so jarring.
Maybe this says something more about me and how I’ve consumed TV over the years, that I’ve been conditioned to, still, at a time when queer content and LGBTQ+ representation on screen is more dynamic than ever, think that the insinuation that dudes have sex with each other is a Big Deal. Uncoupled isn’t the most realistic, the most graphic, or the cleverest depiction of gay sex, but even with just that first scene it still, to me, felt—I’m rolling my eyes as hard as you are for saying this—important.
But you know what? Yes. Neil Patrick Harris looking hot-as-ever getting dicked down on Netflix is what I consider important. This matters to me.
At the start of Uncoupled, Michael Lawson and Colin McKenna are the epitome of gay perfection. They are pushing 50, clearly wealthy, have a gorgeous apartment on Gramercy Park, and, more imperative than all of that, have abs. I hate them because I want to be them, and I drown my sorrows in Chinese takeout I paid for with a nearly-maxed-out credit card because I am not.
Michael goes about his day as a real-estate broker who could seemingly be a composite of every character on Million Dollar Listing New York, while simultaneously making sure that everything is in order for Colin’s massive surprise 50th birthday party he’s been planning for later that night. But it’s Colin who has the bigger surprise.
When he shows up, he tells Michael that he’s leaving him, completely blindsiding him after their 17 years together; Michael had absolutely no idea and, because Colin has no interest in wading through messy feelings, has no answers as to why this is happening. He’s essentially been pushed out of a plane, without the courtesy of being given a parachute.
The season follows Michael as he figures out what it means to be single again for the first time in so many years, and at an age when he never expected to have to navigate the dating scene—let alone reckon with the idea of who he is if he’s alone. There’s learning how to use Grindr and being comfortable having sex again. There is dealing with the hurt, the resentment, the anger, and the confusion over what Colin did. Posters for Uncoupled use the tagline, “He’s single. He forgot how to mingle.” That’s cute!
This is a series that is very appealing to me, a person who rewatches Sex and the City once a quarter and who thought, for all its faults, the way And Just Like That… lent dignity to the experience of aging while still daring to live a thriving life was incredibly profound. “What if we did that, but made it gay?” approaches the level of pandering, in terms of pop culture, that I like.
It is co-created by Darren Star, who, in addition to his work on the Sex and the City franchise, also created the series Younger and Emily in Paris, the former of which I was an unapologetic, diehard fan of, and the latter I apologize for kind-of-loving very much. But those credits lend crucial information to the type of show that Uncoupled is.
It’s a very comforting world, this shared rom-com-series universe. Everyone has money, and the ones who don’t are still inexplicably fabulous. The most romantic cities in the world both look exactly like themselves, yet also more glamorous, as if life had an Instagram filter while you were walking through Manhattan. Apartments are chicer. Parties are more incredible. Crushes are swoonier, sex is hotter, and the tortured concept of “love” becomes something even grander, more complicated, and, yet, more wonderful.
It’s a way of depicting life in a city that makes people want to move there. The romanticization of it all is so enchanting and so imprinting that, when you arrive and life is actually avoiding stepping on a rat while leaving your 375-square-foot apartment that costs 85 percent of your income in order to commute in 97-degree heat to your job where you work 14 hours a day, you’ve already been so seduced that you ignore it all.
Who cares that you haven’t slept in seven months because they’re doing construction outside your building? You’re Carrie Bradshaw now.
“Who cares that you haven’t slept in seven months because they’re doing construction outside your building? You’re Carrie Bradshaw now.”
Uncoupled hits the tonal sweet spot for this kind of show. There are puns and zippy cultural references and one-liners that work really hard, and you should be grateful for the effort because they are often funny. It also, much like those aforementioned series, recklessly moves from these comic moments to intense emotion. I live for this brand of TV whiplash.
In this case, yes, it’s hilarious to make dick-pic jokes as Michael joins Grindr, but he is also a person who is aching and wounded. When his heartbreak washes over him, it is devastating. The best thing about Uncoupled—again, like those other series—is that, for all the envy-inducing style, showiness, and humor, it is grounded in universal, wrenchingly human emotion.
A show like this is fun because it is so escapist, but it works because of how relatable the Big Feelings can be—and the embrace of them that is as unapologetic as the sexiness of everything else. What Michael is going through is hard, even if we get some hot hook-up scenes and best-of-the-year comedy performances from Tisha Campbell and Brooks Ashmanskas as his closest confidants—his Charlotte and Miranda, if you will. It’s a fascinating pop-culture experiment to be whisked off into a fantasy world, but have our difficulties and heartbreaks carried along as baggage.
Whenever a series about gay men—and especially about gay love, dating, and sex—premieres, it’s divisive. It’s never reflective of the exact experience of each individual person and, especially when it’s a show like Uncoupled that’s being pitched to the masses, the way it depicts gay life matters deeply to people—to the point that they almost can’t enjoy the content at face value.
There are people I’ve talked to who’ve seen the series and were annoyed by how obsessed the characters are with having casual sex, as if that’s all gay men care about. And there are people I’ve talked to who’ve seen the series and were annoyed that it wasn’t explicit, frank, or raunchy enough about the sex lives of gay men.
A rich white gay with Harris’ body whose friends operate art galleries and who can afford to take cabs everywhere isn’t accessible to some people, and that’s fair. But, as a person who has lived in New York for [redacted] years, I can say that those people do exist. If I already envy them, I don’t mind watching TV about them, too.
And as far as what is or isn’t relatable about what Michael is going through and how he’s dealing with it? Without revealing too much of my own business, I can say that the series rings true to the point that my friend who came to a screening with me clasped my arm so often in disbelief at its uncanniness that I now have a bruise.
I both love and hate that when a series like Uncoupled comes out, my instinct is still to think of it as important. It’s a really fun TV series, with a great lead performance from Neil Patrick Harris. But there is something important about it. I’ve spent so long empathizing with—and trying to be—a gay Carrie Bradshaw. Now I don’t need qualifiers. I can be Michael Lawson.