This article was first published by The Edge on 9th March 2017
There’s a great question at the heart of You Me Her – exactly how much can one person love two people? Jack (Greg Poehler) and Emma (Rachel Blanchard) are a suburban couple in Portland, Oregon, suffering from unsatisfying sex. Through a series of increasingly bad decisions, including dumb advice, betrayal, and cyber-stalking, the couple meet Izzy (Priscilla Faia), a 25-year old law student moonlighting as an escort. They quickly become enamoured with her, and vice versa, but suburban Portland might not be ready for a polyamorous relationship such as theirs.
Whilst watching You Me Her, Netflix’s newest bingeable sit-com about middle class white people, I kept flashing back to How I Met Your Mother. Specifically, how so much of the first and second season plays like a prequel to the actual show – you know early-on that Ted and Robin don’t end up together and remain good friends throughout, and their relationship has ups and downs until Ted finally meets his wife, but what about the two years Ted spent pursuing/dating her? Don’t you want to know the “backstory”?
You Me Her is similarly, almost entirely a prequel to itself – it ends where it ought to begin, and spends around 5 hours of loosely connected, immensely relaxed scenes getting to the point. Instead of starting in media res, where the relationship has been established for a week, and show the triplet actively figuring out that idea mentioned above, we get to watch a rather more uninspired show about social taboos of polyamory, and the actual logistical difficulties of bringing a young, sexy, third party into a long-established marriage.
Which would be fine, if this was aiming for network sitcom like HIMYM – those requirements made the writing and plotting of every episode in its first season incredibly tight, without ever feeling rushed or strenuous. They wring so many events and story out of one night where the gang try going to an incredibly noisy club, all of it speaking to the heart of the characters, in just 20 minutes. In You Me Her, nearly 30 minutes of each episode adds up to a sum total of 0.5 plot-impacting decisions. It’s not until the final three episodes, when events finally stack up and our characters are in a pickle where they must truly struggle to get out of; as opposed to “feeling like” they’re in trouble, talking about it, pretending to make a decision, and then changing their minds. Those processes may seem “real”, but the show isn’t – nothing on screen ever is, and producing something that mimics “real life” as purely an aesthetic or tonal choice, rarely results in good storytelling.
What manages to maintain the show, through the lackadaisical structuring, is its game cast. Greg Poehler’s Jack is rarely given any tones to his emotions beyond playing up the bewilderment, but he plays it so convincingly that the character’s otherwise flatness is easy to overlook. There’s also something to be said for making the lead man quite so endearingly hapless. His wife Emma, played by Rachel Blanchard, often oscillates between two extremes of coquettish and psychotic, with a helpful dash of responsibility
in the middle – one handful of memorable moments see Emma turn ferocious, throwing out threats with conviction. The other handful see her flirtatious side emerge, perhaps none of which is more impactful than her first contact with Izzy. Of the three leads, it’s Priscilla Faia’s Izzy who deserves the highest plaudits. There’s a messiness and lack of clarity to the writing of her character – she’s a raw nerve of equal parts indecision and a rash boldness, none of which seems to come from a logical place other than “She’s only 25!”. But Faia plays up this dichotomy, making Izzy both the tornado and the house it tears apart. It’s not enough to make the whole show essential, but it does add some promise to an imminent second season. Should the writing and structure improve, it could be special. For now, this ménage à trois attempt is much more like a tricycle; it’s not suitable for adults in the long run, but fun for a short ride.
You Me Her is now available on Netflix UK