Up Here: Season 1 REVIEW – Charming Leads Steal the Show

Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes are rom-com stars.

Up Here
Up Here

Up Here is a Broadway vehicle. The series has 21 songs written by Oscar-winning lyricists Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, it’s directed by Thomas Kail, who won the Tony for directing Hamilton, and co-written by Steven Levenson, who also has a Tony of his own for Dear Evan Hansen. With all these talented people on board, can the show really miss? Well, yes and no. The music’s enjoyable and does a competent job of complimenting the mood of the scene, the choreography is excellent and innovative, and the two actors at the centre of the series – Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes – are so talented. The main thing that holds it back from greatness is the paper-thin storyline.

Whitman plays Lindsay, who starts the series stuck in an empty relationship with a man who has never seen the real her, or given her an orgasm – yikes. The voices in her head – which take on the tangible form of her parents and her former best friend – have held her back most of her life. She’s been too afraid to say what she really thinks or act on her desires. When she wins a writing contest in New York, and her partner isn’t keen to support her writer dreams, she leaves him and takes off to fulfill her dream.

On a night out, while she’s guarding the door as her roommate has sex in the toilet, she meets Miguel (Valdes). Whitman and Valdes have insane chemistry together. The close-ups of their faces and the little looks they give each other convey so much obvious attraction, and you’ll find yourself rooting for their characters to be together even when it’s clear that they aren’t ready yet. Both Whitman and Valdes together on screen is the biggest draw, so every time the show separates them, the events that follow just aren’t that interesting.

Whitman has always been great. She’s excellent in The Duff – an underrated teen comedy that more people should know about – and is so entertaining in TV series Good Girls. She’s no stranger to singing on screen, having done it on the NBC show Parenthood, but the singing in Up Here is a different kind of challenge. She proves herself up to the task, performing the songs competently and with such stage presence – a complete joy to watch.

Valdes is a revelation. I’ve watched him for years on TV show The Flash, so I know that he’s a funny and charismatic actor. But he’s absolutely incredible as a romantic leading man. As Miguel, he’s sensitive, charming, funny, sexy, vulnerable – you name it, he has it. I hope this show brings more opportunities to the table for him.

After getting burned in a past relationship, Miguel thinks the way to overcome it is to go all wolf of wall street, and become the kind of man that no woman cheats on or abandons. The series does dive quite a bit into social expectations for men and women. Miguel feels like he needs to be this alpha Tom Buchanan type, while Lindsey is raised to be a Daisy Buchanan, to work towards marriage and a family. There’s even a Great Gatsby costume engagement party in the series, to really hammer home these ideas. The series is set in the late 90s, which explains why these themes are such a major aspect of the show.

There are hints towards this 90s setting: the Y2K bug is discussed at one point, both Miguel and Lindsay use landlines, and some of the women are supporting distinctly 90s looking hair. While there are all these elements, it doesn’t completely feel like the 90s. Some contemporary TV shows haven’t really mastered the art of completely sinking into an era (I’m looking at you, Daisy Jones & the Six), but still, I would say Up Here gives it a valiant effort.

The shows also explores what a job should offer a person. Should a job just be a way to make money, or is passion the way to go? Lindsay’s all in with her writer aspiration, while Miguel walked away from his job as a game designer to be an analyst at a bank. I mean, sure, it’s still an issue we grapple with individually till today, but the show doesn’t handle it with nuance, giving cookie-cutter answers instead of something more insightful.

The show works on a constant formula: Whitman and Valdes dazzle the screens with their chemistry, and then the show finds a way to break them up. Rinse and repeat. And I get that their baggage and fears lead to them sabotaging the relationship, but we don’t even get to have a honeymoon stage. Issues are also seemingly resolved after a musical sequence, which prevents them from having emotional weight. Lindsay’s reunion with her ex should feel more potent, but it’s played for laughs instead. She told the truth, but does she take accountability? Not exactly the same thing.

Up Here does end with a potential for a second series, and while I’m not sure if this first season will garner enough attention for Hulu to greenlight a second, I do want to see Whitman and Valdes together on screen again. Fingers crossed.

Review screener provided.

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Up Here
While Up Here isn't quite up there with the likes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it does have two charming leads that make it worth tuning it.