The Guardian

Insomnia has never seemed so charming – I could watch these two chatting for ever

Joel Golby

All right, I’m going to say something that, realistically, is going to ruin a lot of television for you for a very long time, possibly for ever. Have you ever noticed how – especially in comedies, but also in almost everything else – nobody actually talks to each other? They don’t actually have conversations? Sometimes they say things to each other, sure. Sometimes they reveal enough information to get the story engine moving. But they don’t actually say things, and quite often they actively talk past each other while they’re doing it. When did you last see an actual, honest-togoodness conversation in a scripted series? You’re racking your brains. Take a minute, see what you come up with. Nothing, right?

Anyway, I have a delightful surprise for you: it’s called Still

Up, it’s a British comedy on Apple TV+ (from Friday), the characters actually talk to each other, and it’s really, really good. The central conceit is this: best friends Danny (Craig Roberts, who is superb and needs to be in way more things) and Lisa (Antonia Thomas, who is also superb and needs to be in way more things, but is also already in The Good Doctor) are two friends with shared insomnia. They while away the small hours of the morning with long, meandering phonecalls about nothing and something, and they share this deep, loyal, honestfeeling friendship. Obviously they are in love with each other. You don’t win any prizes for guessing that they’re in love with each other.

What’s very good about Still Up is, even though you know exactly where it’s going (well, not exactly: either they are going to realise they’re in love with each other and do a big dramatic life-exploding link-up at the end or they are going to drift in other directions and it’s going to be very heartbreaking for me and, if you take my advice and watch this show, you as well), it’s so deeply steeped in charm that you don’t really mind about all that. Apple has learned that people would always rather be charmed than surprised – I promise I’ll stop bringing Ted Lasso up one day – and Still Up takes that idea and runs out into the night with it.

Danny and Lisa dance their way through fun little conversations (“If you had to lose one body part for ever, what would it be?”) and tell each other what bizarre capers they’ve managed to wedge themselves into in their sleepless state. The first episode does this especially well: Danny, who’s quietly become agoraphobic, has told his neighbours he’s away to avoid a party, and keeps ducking behind the kitchen island so they don’t see him; Lisa is in a complicated relationship with a pharmacy, a mean-bitch mumfrom-school, and some calamine lotion. The dialogue is exceptional too (“It can’t be the worst date in history, because I’ve already been on the worst date in history.” “All right, tell me about it because if it’s good I’ll package it as my own story”). Antonia Thomas has already proved she’s really good at playing the female lead in a sweet and very British will-they-won’tthey genre-defying romcom series in Lovesick, and she’s playing the same trick here. But it’s all the more impressive because they’re constantly on video calls, so the two actors are never actually in the same room. She’s fizzing off a guy locked on a soundstage! How is that possible?

What I enjoyed most about Still Up, though, is it sticks very neatly to its own ambition. Each episode sees Danny locked in his flat being funny in a nervous way and Lisa out on location having a strange adventure in a searching-for-something way, and it means every episode has its own setpiece feel, but also gives them time and space to talk. There is not a constant attempt to cram in a significant B-plot for Lisa’s partner, Veggie (Blake Harrison, who is superb and etc etc etc). We see exactly enough of Danny’s cheerfully helpful neighbour, Adam (Luke Fetherston, not typing it out again), and slightly too much of his weirdo neighbour, Rich Fulcher (who I would personally like to see in far fewer things). But, crucially, they talk, and talk, and talk, and – like any good friendship – the dialogue never runs out of energy. And then – is that the time? It can’t be that late, can it? I didn’t even notice! – you start to pull for the two of them like you’ve never pulled before. This “talking” thing … they really could be on to something, you know.

The actors are on video calls so are never in the same room. She’s fizzing off a guy locked on a soundstage! How is that possible?

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