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Hulu’s ‘Up Here’ Tells a Y2K-Era Love Story, in Song: TV Review



It’s an interesting, telling choice that “Up Here,” Hulu’s new musical sitcom starring Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes, is set in 1999. Not merely is the turn of the century, according to the roughly 20-year nostalgia cycle, currently in vogue, but the particular sort of moment the Y2K era was lends texture and meaning to the story “Up Here” tells. Assaying a time just before the social web allowed loners to find one another, “Up Here” presents a winning and lovely pair of oddballs singing their hearts out, in disbelief at having found one another.

Here, Whitman plays Lindsay, who was lectured in childhood to shield her spiky and odd side from peers in order to be liked. “You show people the nice parts, because believe me, that’s all that people want to see,” her mother (Katie Finneran) tells her; grown up, she’s terrified to show vulnerability at all.

Having moved to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, Lindsay has a painful block on her emotions. And, like many things bottled up, Lindsay’s oddities — all human-scale and relatable enough — express themselves explosively. Shortly after meeting Valdes’ Miguel, she’s tossing his briefcase over a fence, as if uncertain of how to have a normal conversation.

But that, of course, is where song comes in, and both characters, when at a loss for words, express themselves through music. (Thomas Kail, of “Hamilton,” directs their performances, and the transitions into song, elegantly.) Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s songs are predictably lovely, and the show’s most effective method of conveying their respective disconnection. Some of the storytelling is frankly less developed than the songcraft. Miguel, for instance, is already paranoid, anxious, and teetering on the edge of losing it: What does the obligatory-feeling episode in which he takes a drug trip, pushing him yet farther, add to our understanding of his situation? Similarly, Lindsay’s anxieties about hiding her inner weirdo come to feel overstated, or like more than this sweetly intended but slight show can bear.

These are quibbles with a lovely and thoughtful series that is particularly well-acted: Whitman is likely overdue for a leading role like this, and her singing is sweet and tuneful, as is her chemistry with Valdes. Together, the pair never condescend to the material, or seem 2023-ishly aware of the changes in our society since 1999. They feel utterly of their time and place, a very nice one to visit.

“Up Here” premieres all episodes on Friday, March 24, on Hulu.


Source: Variety

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