Review by Sean Boelman
With some of the most popular creative talents on Broadway working behind the scenes, the new Hulu series Up Here seemed destined to be a hit. While it’s charming enough to get by, the derivative nature of Up Here — both of other series and itself — causes the initial intrigue to wear off rather quickly.
The show follows two New Yorkers who, discontent with their lives, spark up an unexpected romance only to find that they are getting in the way of their own happiness. Although the core premise is a pretty basic rom-com set-up, there are some ambitiously surreal elements that promise to make Up Here stand out. Unfortunately, these aspects are largely left underdeveloped.
Ultimately, as is the case with a lot of half-hour comedies these days, this did not need to be as long as it was. The structure is quite literally repetitive, and it grows monotonous in the back half. It’s light and breezy enough that it’s still easy viewing, but it feels very much like they had a good concept and just did not know what to do with it.
One of the most confusing things about this show is its tone. Although it’s mostly enjoyable as a whole, the show often seems to struggle to understand exactly who it is made for. In some parts, it’s an idealistic, almost wholesome comedy a la Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; but in others, it’s a cynical raunchy comedy in the vein of Trainwreck. It gets a decent amount of laughs, but still would have benefitted from more consistency.
Viewers’ opinion of the show will likely be made or broken by their opinion of the characters. And while the characters aren’t exactly frustrating, they also aren’t particularly likable. You may find yourself rooting neither for nor against them, which is about the worst spot this could be in. It doesn’t help that — despite being excellent performers on their own — Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdez have no chemistry together.
The biggest draw of the show is the music by Kristen-Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez, but even that peaks relatively early. The first song in the series is extremely catchy — and they seem to know it, because it’s repeated throughout the show quite a few times. The rest of the songs are good, but the only other one to wow is a show-stopping solo by Brian Stokes Mitchell.
The directors also manage to direct the hell out of the show, but it’s no surprise given how heavily Hamilton director Thomas Kail was involved. The musical sequences are shot in a way that is fun and creative, giving the series a much-needed boost of energy. Even if the writing leaves something to be desired, the visuals and choreography give it sufficient vibrancy.
Up Here gets a pass due to a few catchy tunes and inspired choreography and direction, making it just fun enough to be worth watching. Still, viewers’ interest will likely take a sharp nosedive after the first couple episodes, and they’ll likely forget it rather quickly.
Up Here streams on Hulu beginning March 24. All eight episodes reviewed.