There is a point halfway through When Harry met Sally when the two leads, both of whom can’t sleep, are on the phone. The actual conversation isn’t about anything: past relationships, what’s on TV, the end of it Casablanca. But what comes through loud and clear is the connection between them, so easy and comfortable that any fool can see that they are meant to be together.
Apple TV+s Still awake is a whole series When Harry met Sally phone calls between sleepless best friends Lisa (Antonia Thomas) and Danny (Craig Roberts). Like their big-screen ancestors, they consider themselves ‘just friends’; Like them, it’s clear to almost everyone around them, including us, that they are destined for romance. The only thing that is unfortunately missing is When Harry met Sally‘s most crucial ingredient: the magical chemistry that drives us to get there against all odds.
It comes down to
Too much cuteness and not enough fun.
Broadcast date: Friday, September 22 (Apple TV+)
Form: Antonia Thomas, Craig Roberts, Blake Harrison, Lois Chimimba, Luke Fetherston, Rich Fulcher
Makers: Steve Burge, Natalie Walter
The obstacles in their way, when we encounter them, are quite high. Lisa works in a restaurant and is the mother of five-year-old Poppy, although both details are hardly relevant to the story. More pertinently, she lives with a boyfriend, Veggie (Blake Harrison), a wholesome guy who draws compliments like “what that guy lacks in personality, he makes up for in reliability.” Danny is now a journalist who specializes in music, but is often assigned pieces such as ’10 things they didn’t tell you about vinegar’. (What those things are: “I don’t know. I haven’t made them up yet,” he shrugs.) He’s also agoraphobic and can’t put a single toe outside the threshold of his apartment without triggering a panic attack.
As a result, even though they live in the same city – London – their relationship is conducted almost entirely through iMessage and FaceTime calls that take place late into the night. (The amount of time they spend on Apple products makes this Apple show double as an Apple advertisement.) The evening world that Still awake The buildings surrounding it are cozy, dotted with sweet eccentric neighbors and cast in the soft glow of street lamps or the pink neon of street signs. In it, our protagonists frequently find themselves in cute sitcom-esque scrapes, like the time Danny is reduced to crawling around his own house in the dark after telling a ridiculous white lie to get out of a house cat’s birthday party.
Thomas, from the beloved British rom-com Madly in love (real people still remember when it was mentioned Scrotal memory), is as light and charming as Lisa, with a thousand-watt smile and a voice as ringing as the opening piano theme. Danny initially seems destined for the friend zone, with Lisa playfully describing his vibe as “friendly milkman,” though I’d say he’s much more neurotic than that. But over time, Roberts’ dry sense of humor turns him into a compellingly offbeat romantic lead. The pleasure they get from each other’s company is clearly visible. As Lisa struggles to strike up a conversation with Veggie, she talks to Danny for hours about everything from sleep tips to bitchy school moms to the body parts they could live without. Their mutual devotion may be even clearer. The few times Danny considers leaving his house, it is invariably for Lisa’s sake. It’s so clear that they’re headed for romance that the dating app Lisa signs Danny up for immediately rates their compatibility at 91%.
In short, it is a classic friendship arch, planted in a beautiful part of London where it certainly cannot help but flourish. What could be the problem: Still awake works so hard to nurture its own cuteness and cleverness that it never finds the same ease that Lisa and Danny find with each other. Romcoms often derive their charm from creating worlds that resemble much rosier versions of our own; no one swoons Heart stopper or Bridgerton because they admire how gritty and realistic they are. But Still awake exists in a middle ground where it is neither grounded enough to feel relatable nor confident enough in its idiosyncrasy to feel like a universe unto itself.
Instead of, Still awake creates scenarios that have the familiar form of jokes, but lack the timing or sharpness to reach the punch line: Is Is it hilariously clever that Lisa’s solution to confronting a bully on the bus involves taking off her own clothes and throwing them out the window, or just a bit weird and random? It’s not without its niceties – I particularly enjoyed a detour about a handyman who starts dishing out all his romantic woes to an aggrieved Danny – but eight half hours proves to be an awfully long time for Lisa and Danny to get their wheels turning . I suppose they needed to be filled with something, but I wonder if it might not have been better to get rid of this bloat altogether and reduce the core story to a 100 minute movie.
Still awakeThe company’s biggest problem, however, is rooted in its premise. Apparently Danny and Lisa’s love is the whole reason they’re here. But Thomas and Roberts lack the courage to make us believe in the undeniability of their bond. As much as the scripts hint at their growing feelings for each other, they have the chemistry of two codependent platonic friends who spend too much time on the phone. The problems that keep them physically separated keep them, well, physically separated – unable to engage in the shy looks or flirty touches that masquerade as visual shorthand for romantic and sexual attraction until it’s far too late to right the ship. As romances go, theirs are soft and cuddly enough to serve as a bedtime story. But it lacks the kind of passion that can keep a lover awake at night.