At face value, it’s easy to compare Still Up—the new Apple TV+ romantic comedy series about two chronic insomniac best friends, navigating life and love together over the phone at all hours of the night—to another genre benchmark: Sleepless in Seattle. After all, Nora Ephron’s beloved 1993 film also followed a restless man who was beholden to the telecommunications industry (before that became every single one of us, around a decade ago). But Still Up, which premieres Sept. 22, is very different from the film it’ll be measured against.
For starters, the show is set in London, which is famously not Washington’s rainy metropolis, in case you’re not up on your geography. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t enchant in the same way that Ephron’s film does; Sleepless in Seattle slowly shades in the details of its fated romance, but Still Up unspools them at a vexingly slow pace over its eight-episode first season. That’s not to say the show is without its charms—in fact, it’s full of them, thanks to its two perfectly cast leads. But the series has an air of unsustainability, like a scrapped pitch for a Quibi show that has been stretched into half-hour doses instead of 10-minute bites. While Still Up will no doubt delight rom-com fans, its rote storylines and flat jokes will leave most viewers drowsy.
The first few episodes, however, are intriguing enough—until your Ambien kicks in. We’re introduced to Lisa (Antonia Thomas) and Danny (Craig Roberts) at the start of one of their nightly FaceTime calls. The two friends are bonded in their mutual insomnia, and regularly talk until late in the night just to pass the time. As such, they’re immersed in the stranger elements of the world, the kind of things that happen on the fringes of the evening long after the sun has set. Well, at least Lisa is; along with his insomnia, Danny has also become an increasingly rigid agoraphobe. While Lisa is putting the bins out and heading to the all-night pharmacy, walking past drag queens and stragglers getting kicked out of the pub after last call, Danny is at home, wondering if it’s too late to order a pizza.
Though he’s largely confined to his apartment, the series gives Danny enough to do so that both sides of this protracted conservation between friends remain interesting. But Danny’s plots become irksome and repetitive, with the show teasing out an explanation for his recent agoraphobia until the final episode. The same goes for the story of how Danny and Lisa met and became friends (surprise, surprise, these things are indeed related to one another). Still Up holds that information until the season finale, instead spending its first seven episodes crafting the intimate relationship between these two night owls. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it is a frustrating one—no matter how sentimentally the show portrays Lisa and Danny’s bond.
As Lisa and Danny, Thomas and Roberts are owed quite a bit of credit for what works about the show. The two actors are rarely on screen together, but still share an undeniable chemistry that effortlessly bridges friendship and romance. Roberts makes the most out of his anxious character, playing Danny with a self-effacing humor that works well for the show, even when Still Up doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with his storyline. But it’s Thomas who is the real scene-stealer. Lisa is bubbliness personified, but Thomas knows how to make her far more appealing than obnoxious. Her character is the kind of person that anyone could fall in love with, and it’s easy to see how Lisa—though covertly pining for her best friend—has both Danny and her boyfriend Veggie (Blake Harrison) so enamored with her.
Lisa’s relationship with Veggie (yes, that is his character’s baptismal name) sets up a sturdy foil for the series’ central romance between her and Danny, giving them an engaging will-they-won’t-they dynamic. Lisa and Veggie not only share three good years together, but he’s also become a loving and doting stepfather to her daughter, Poppy. As her feelings for Danny intensify, Lisa has to weigh the comfortable stability of her life as it is with her affection for the person that makes her truly come alive, even if it’s only over the phone.
There’s a real irony here of Lisa and Danny being phone-addicted, chronic insomniacs when smartphones’ current ubiquity can be traced back to Apple revolutionizing the industry, and thus being part of the reason we’re so screen-obsessed and can’t put our phones down to fall asleep. Watching these friends FaceTime each other using their Apple products on this Apple TV+ series is a big laugh. I’m not entirely sure Danny and Lisa are clinical-grade insomniacs so much as they are hooked on that sweet blue light emanating from the latest iPhone. Watching Still Up is almost like seeing Tim Cook shrug and say, “Hey, at least we can joke about it!”
This cosmic punchline is, sadly, one of the series’ biggest jokes. Still Up is far more “rom” than “com.” It’s not entirely devoid of laughs, just lacking enough big, memorable ones to make it more than a modern attempt at Sleepless in Seattle. Still Up is far from some of the recent rom-com disasters, but it's almost too unembellished. One wishes that something grand or sweeping would eventually happen between these two characters—the kind who have a chemistry that money can’t buy—but it never quite hits that mark. Instead, the series is content to slowly drift off, becoming something as ephemeral and forgettable as a NyQuil-induced dream.
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