‘Up Here’ assembles an all-star creative team behind a pretty flat musical series
Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
Blessed with an A-plus creative pedigree that includes the director of “Hamilton,” writer of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” and songwriters behind “Frozen,” “Up Here” joins the growing list of musical series, in what amounts to a young-adult version of “Inside Out.” The show, however, isn’t as good as its auspices, and the music can’t mask the thinness of the story, translating into a pretty flat episodic rom-com, just with a better-than-average beat.
Adapted from the musical by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez (a member of the exclusive EGOT club) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (in addition to “Frozen,” known for “The Book of Mormon”), collaborating with director Thomas Kail and writer Stephen Levenson, the series features an aspiring writer, Lindsay (Mae Whitman), chucking it all, including her caricature of a boyfriend, to see if she can make it as a writer in New York.
The setbacks come fast and hard, but there’s at least a ray of personal hope when she meets an investment banker, Miguel (“The Flash’s” Carlos Valdes), himself recovering from a bad breakup having walked in on his girlfriend with another guy.
The gimmick is that the audience is privy to both central characters’ innermost thoughts, as they interact with a trio of figures from their pasts (including her parents and a school friend, and his mom and his girlfriend’s lover) to give voice to their insecurities. On the subject of impure thoughts, for example, the little voice represented by Lindsay’s mom (Katie Finneran) tells her, “You keep those things up here in your head where nobody else can see them.”
Set in 1999 on the verge of the new century, the show certainly has a write-what-you-know feel to it, as Lindsay and Miguel, each sweetly vulnerable, must work through their respective baggage if their relationship is going to have any chance. Much of that unfolds via song, while shrewdly incorporating supporting players with strong musical-theater credentials like Brian Stokes Mitchell to augment those performances.
Decades after “Cop Rock” became (unfairly) synonymous with disaster, it’s nice to see musical series becoming more regular TV fixtures thanks in part to streaming, whether that’s Apple TV+’s “Schmigadoon!” (which will receive an encore in April) or the upcoming “Grease” prequel.
Still, in musicals the songs ultimately work to service and advance the story, and in the case of “Up Here” that consists of throwing one monkey wrench after another into the gears of Lindsay and Miguel’s relationship, in a way that quickly grows a bit tedious.
“Up Here” thus plays like an experiment that doesn’t entirely work, featuring energetic numbers but stretching the material beyond its weight at eight episodes.
Chalk it up, perhaps appropriately, as another one of those situations where the idea surely sounded better in everyone’s head, ultimately, than it does in the execution.
“Up Here” premieres March 24 on Hulu.
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