Review: Hulu's UP HERE Stays Up There But Forgets To Come Down Here

Cute can go a long way, but can it go far enough?

Video: Ruthie Ann Miles Was Afraid that Audiences Just Didn't 'Get' Her CharacterWelcome, my dearlings, to another rainbow installment of our thoughts on some streaming content, this time coming to you from the fab children at HULU! So jump in the stream with Bobby, and let's see if our rainbow lands on a pot of gold.

This week, lovely readers, we are gonna hulu-hoop with hulu, as we talk about the new 8-parter series from Broadway veterans Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and Steven Levenson - all multi-award winners for their work in musical theatre, as well as film & TV. Bringing their prodigious Tony and Oscar-winning talents together to create UP HERE, a half-hour TV format musical romcom, sounds like a bold move toward an experiment that has been tried before. Musical television shows are no longer the innovative going-where-no-TV-show-has-gone-before lightning-in-a-bottle ideas that they were back in the days of COP ROCK. Shows such as GLEE and ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST stand out as top of the heap in network television's forays into MGM-land. There are other examples of work such as this out there in the streaming world... SCHMIGADOON comes to mind, to name just one. UP HERE, though, is an original hulu production based on a musical by the Lopezes that has not seen the light of the stage in NYC to date. Re-imagining the work and breaking up what was meant to be a 1 ½ -2 hour piece of musical theatre (we're guessing) into 8 segments and a total of 4 hours of television could and should have been an inspired re-purposing of material. Following the ups and downs of a sex-and-love-in-the-city romance from its very meet-cute to a season conclusion tailored as a cliffhanger UP HERE attempts to polish a diamond from an old stone.

UP HERE is a musical romantic sit-comedy set in New York City in the year 1999. We are introduced first to Lindsay, played by former child star (George Clooney's moppet from ONE FINE DAY), now all grown up grizzled Hollywood veteran, Mae Whitman. We see a bit of Lindsay's neurotic origin story from her childhood before we jump to Lindsay 1999, who has reached an intolerable state of tedium with life in Vermont and with her partner Ned, played with wide-eyed cluelessness by George Hempe. As usually happens in Vermont, this hopeless dreamer of a wannabe writer wins a short story contest and, with no guarantee of anything and no real plan, packs bag and baggage off to New York to follow her wannabe dreams, leaving poor Ned to wonder "Wha' Happen'?". However, that baggage Lindsay brings with her takes the form of a trio, a sort of Greek chorus (if you will) in her head, that pops up periodically to point out her mistakes and shake her self-confidence. The fact that these three imaginary "friends" are her Mom, Joan (played by the fabulous Katie Finneran), her childhood bestie, Celeste (played by another kid-acting veteran Sophia Hammons), and her VERY dad-like dad, Tom (played by DICKTOWN actor/writer/creator John Hodgman) is a Freudian pool everyone should understand enough to be afraid to swim in it. Finding nothing but a bumpy road to her meteoric rise to JK Rowling-land, Lindsay winds up, one evening, standing guard in a bar over the door to the restroom, where her obligatory surly British roommate, Marta (Ayumi Patterson) is having sex. Enter the impossibly adorable Carlos Valdes (THE FLASH's Cisco Ramone) as Miguel (Jimmy) Jiminez, who raises Lindsay's temperature very quickly. Sparks fly from crackling flirtatious dialogue, lips get locked, and hands roam until there is a neurotic emotional upheaval, this time caused by Miguel's trio of mental hangers-on, his Mom, Rosie (played to a clingy fare-thee-well by Broadway's marvelous Andrea Burns), his high school bully, Renee (the dripping with sarcasm Emilia Suárez), and former ALTAR BOYS band member, Scott Porter, as Orson, the friend who betrayed Miguel with the woman he wished to make his fiancee... And so it follows that, in order to be together, Lindsay and Miguel need to extricate themselves from the revival of THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG into which they have been, unwittingly, cast, and take 6 fewer people out with them on their dates. The rise and fall and rise again and fall again and maybe rise again of their love is the 4 hours traffic of this series. Finneran's desperation to remain normal at all costs and to almost celebrate her personal brand of suburban housewife dysfunction is the backbone of Lindsay's neurotic trio, as is Burns's blindness to her cherub son's faults and insistence that he needs no other woman in his life... ewww. Hodgman's everyman face and acting make him the somewhat hapless foil to Finneran and Hammons but these two ladies use him like the fulcrum of their teeter-totter. It is the other trio of Burns, Porter, and Suárez that do not really mix as a team, preferring to take turns haranguing Valdes, one after another.

The songs of UP HERE and the musical numbers built around them are tuneful and loads of fun to see and hear. The cast is made of professional singers like Finneran, Burns, and Porter, and the two leads are superb vocalists as well. Add to the musical comedy mix the undeniable charm of Valdes and Whitman and you should have a surefire hit. All the elements are there and all the performers are first-rate craftspersons, and, from the bouncy opening theme sung by the leads to the location shooting in New York City with familiar Broadway actor/singer/dancers (Like NEWSIES and SYTYCD's Alex Wong) popping in and out, there are many delights - UP HERE (see what Bobby did there?). But, while Levinson & Co's dialogue flows smoothly from his actors, and has some fire to it when needed, the dramatic tension of the story never really pulls taught enough or develops into an explosion from which all must recover. The story is sweet, if not terribly innovative, and the cast performs all their jobs extremely well. They are all fun and funny and no one is overly annoying for too long. Some outlying characters are playing it a bit too big for the home screens, but this is most likely a choice to swirl New York City around our lovers, to toss them to and fro. Adam Kaplan, who could have swung big as one of Miguel's bro-ish/dude-ish work colleagues, stops short of caricature and shows some legit comic chops. Whitman, who paints in some broader acting brushstrokes, here, finds the perfect chemical counterpoint in Valdes's more laid-back "never gonna catch me acting" style. Their chemistry is palpable and their timing together - impeccable. They are pithy with their words, and their attraction is hot, reminding one of Hollywood golden era couples who could talk fast and sharp, and make the dialogue sexier than copulation in the copy shop bathroom. Setting the story in New York in the latter days of the Clinton era removes some of our modern-day onus and allows them access to the more plentiful personal oxygen of those halcyon days.

All of the above plusses are shined up by nice direction and camera choices from Kimmy Gatewood, Thomas Kail, Chioke Nassor, and Rachel Raimist (2 eps each), and, as far as your typical musical romcom half hour television show goes, UP HERE's efforts are not ALL in vain. If cute is your thing and you like musicals, then this show is a cute musical show for you to put in your hulu queue. If you like this cast and want to hear them sing, then, by all means, don't let little Bobby's thoughts dissuade you, but just know that when it all shakes out, UP HERE does not have a whole lot of there, up there... so there. In the final analysis, while it's true that we, personally, find it all a little too twee, Bobby's prediction is that the audience it finds will love it enough to get it to a second season... And, so, while we had a mostly good time with UP HERE, Bobby must give this one a loving...

3 Out Of 5 Rainbows.

Dial up UP HERE on your hulu Streaming beginning TODAY 3/24!



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