Plagued by an ongoing implausibility that renders the series an often tedious endurance test, Still Up fails to drum up any engagement. The eight-episode series, starring Antonia Thomas and Craig Roberts wants to be (500) Days of Summer—quirky but emotionally honest. But instead, it’s Elizabethtown—still quirky but emotionally vacant. Created by Steve Burge and Natalie Walter, Still Up emulates the late aughts, to early 2010’s “adorkable” trend and it loses steam quickly.
Lisa and Danny are friends by circumstance, having met years ago as guests at a wedding, and have maintained their friendship since then through many phone calls. The two night owls, who suffer from insomnia and other related sleep disorders, have made a habit of keeping the other company during their long nights. Lisa is dating a man, Veggie (Blake Harrison) with a daughter from a previous relationship, while Danny lives with agoraphobia and hasn’t left his apartment in ages. This setup in and of itself is the type that reads interestingly on paper or, at the very least, offers up the potential for comedic specificity related to their ongoing struggles. Instead, the effect is vapid and narrow, especially once we realize the show is quickly going down the romantic route.
Still Up stretches our ability to accept larger-than-life scenarios, and the opening episodes directly inform the series’ tone. In the first episode, Lisa spends literal hours in a late-night pharmacy in the pharmacist’s absence from their desk. She’s immobilized by not knowing whether to take the medicine and go or stay and wait. The second episode then see’s Lisa stripping in some form of perceived defiance in the middle of a bus, in another anecdotal sequence that is built to be greater than it is. These moments, and ones that follow, seem written with the intent to make viewers see how funny a moment or character is without actually landing humor. Episode 1 also shows Danny facing the totally relatable experience of having lied to his neighbor to get out of said neighbor’s cat’s birthday party, the lie being that he’s gone away to Disneyland. His lie is disrupted when he tries to order pizza and is told the delivery man can’t leave without a photo that the delivery has been received.
There’s room in comedies for an air of absurdity, but it needs to be grounded. And, if the aim is for playfulness and for a taste of the surreal, there needs to be intent in it, with heightened humor for more than just the sake of it. Take, for instance, another romcom Thomas starred in, the Netflix series Lovesick. An episode begins with a man regaling his best friend with the entire plot of Point Break with the two ending up moved to tears by the end of the retelling. It’s an aside that has nothing to do with the relevant plot, but it makes sense within the context of the story because the characters have been written so that we believe they’d easily distract one another when realizing the other hasn’t seen their favorite film. But Still Up doesn’t earn those character-driven anecdotes and instead forces them upon us.
From the start, Still Up expects the audience to fully invest in this friendship, despite being shown very little evidence of why or how they they became friends who may be harboring romantic feelings for one another. Instead, we’re often told how well they know one another, how Lisa can tease Danny because she knows him so well. This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the entirety of the series wasn’t being sold on that proposed bond. But the structure of the series—told through vignettes of recalled past moments, mainly through phone screens—necessitates being invested quickly. Unfortunately, the show never manages to make its audience want to commit.
Thomas and Roberts have both delivered strong performances in the past, but Still Up fails to allow them anything worthwhile or memorable. Conversing largely through cell phones, the conversations and dialogue-heavy expository moments don’t allow for a real chemistry to be struck, instead, again, relying on what’s being told rather than what’s being seen. There’s a litmus test to the saying that it’s better to be shown than be told, with the expression being overused in criticism, especially regarding films and television series that do the latter well and for specific, story-related reasons. But Still Up is an example of why we need to be shown something. Otherwise, we’re just watching two people express their thoughts at one another with little depth or substance.
This is further hurt by how the creators write their partners and potential partners are after-thoughts. Veggie is written with such a broad stroke that we don’t quite ever understand what Lisa saw in him, even if he’s perfectly nice. Meanwhile, both romantic suitors of Danny, such as Amy (Lois Chimimba), and friendly neighbors, such as Adam (Luke Fetherston), are too patient with Danny’s lesser qualities. With how Lisa and Danny behave and treat those they seemingly care for, it’s hard to buy that anyone would want to be friends with them.
Still Up seeks to achieve that upper pantheon of romantic comedies where two people connect over shared troubles, their friendship blossoming into something greater. Instead, with all of its proposed whimsy and unnatural, affected dialogue, Still Up is little more than our dullest diary entries.
Still Up premieres September 22 on Apple TV+.
Still Up seeks to achieve that upper pantheon of romantic comedies where two people connect over shared troubles, their friendship blossoming into something greater. Instead, with all of it’s proposed whimsy and unnatural, affected dialogue, Still Up is little more than our dullest diary entries.