secret skills

Platonic Tackles Midlife Motherhood With The Buddy-Comedy Humor It Deserves

Co-creators Francesca Delbanco and Nick Stoller share the stories behind the show’s funniest moments.

A mother of three staring down middle age, Sylvia is having a bit of a wobble. So, instead of facing facts — her youngest is off to school now and she has no idea who she is or what she wants — Sylvia (played by Rose Byrne) reconnects with her college BFF, Will. Will (played by Seth Rogan) is going through a divorce, so both are having something of an existential crisis. In other words? The timing is perfect.

Much sloppy, goofy, completely age-inappropriate partying follows and that, friends, is the thank-goodness-it’s-only-vicarious joy of new Apple TV+ series Platonic. Watching two people in their late 40s rekindle a friendship that died in their 20s is a pure delight. Platonic takes the easy-to-love, buddy-comedy vibe and uses it to address all of the little social and societal minefields that moms navigate every day. But despite its light heart and silly humor, I’ve often find myself floored by the precise way Platonic articulates the challenges of juggling selfhood and motherhood when we’re still in the thick of parenting.

Los Angeles-based writers and showrunners Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller — whom you might remember from movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek and Neighbors, also starring Rogan and Byrne — are the masterminds behind this show. Married parents of three themselves, they co-created this series and contribute heavily to the writers room. We spoke to them last week about parenthood, having fun, Seth Rogan’s “grunge clown” wardrobe, and how their real lives influenced the show’s evolution.

Platonic opens with Rose Byrne’s character, Sylvia, in the beginning stages of a midlife crisis or millennial angst, or whatever you want to call it. I’m curious to what extent you pulled from your own experience of midlife angst in writing and creating this story?

Francesca Delbanco: We are pulling from our own experience, but it’s not just us. It’s our friends, and parents we know at the schools that our children go to. I think it is a common and universal theme that you go into a tunnel when you become a parent. You get very used to letting your identity, your needs, your own interests, passions and ambitions take a backseat to the much more immediate fires that are right in front of you that need to be put out. You know, this person has pink eye, or this person has a diaper rash, or, we forgot that we were supposed to volunteer for the staff appreciation lunch. All those things can really consume every corner of your brain.

I think that's especially true for women. It’s true for men, too — I would say we have a very equal partnership — but there's just that whole idea of like the mental load that a lot of mothers deal with, that crowds out your own personal identity for a while. And eventually, you kind of wake up from this fever dream and you're like, how did this become who I am? It wasn’t who I ever imagined I would be. It is absolutely not a phase of life that I regret, but it is very consuming and you do sacrifice a part of yourself for it.

Nicholas Stoller: [Kids are] only little for so long, you know? You want to be around, and there's a lot of parents making the choice to put their careers and lives on hold just so they can be around. And then, suddenly, that part’s done. That's something that we wanted to explore as well. That it’s a choice that Rose’s character has made to be around — it's not something that's been put on her. But now she’s like, what do I do now?

It seems like Sylvia’s renewed friendship with Will, who is freshly out of divorce, is so much about fun and about Sylvia rediscovering — or trying to remember — what it means to have fun. I’m curious about exactly how you pull from your own life — do you scribble down little moments?

FD: We had an incredible group of writers. And we do feel that it's very much written in our voice and in our tone. We have three daughters and one of them is a teenager. We have let them watch the family scenes with us, because I get a big kick out of it. It’s very familiar to them, what's going on. Those dynamics, the way those parents are parenting, the amount of chaos in the morning before school, the sense of humor of the characters — my teenage daughter and I literally did have that acid jeans conversation that’s in the pilot. Like word for word.

NS: We are having the characters say things that we, I think, believe on some level, and that are story-driven. But they’re not necessarily things we’ve said.

Yeah. One of the things that’s so enjoyable about the show is how it pushes these characters beyond the way that most of us would explore a midlife crisis. Like, I don't know many people who are, for example (spoiler!) eating other people’s speeches.

FD: Well, that came from a real live story of a writer in our writer's room.

Are you serious?

FD: Yeah. I mean under different circumstances — he's a man and it was for different reasons — but yes, it was real.

Amazing. I’d love to talk about Will. Is he based on people that you have known? And what’s up with his “90s grunge clown” style? I must know!

FD: For Seth, it’s important that his character is different. He had this idea of wearing L.A. street wear, and he thought it would differentiate Will from other characters he's played. And there's a tiny bit of arrested development in there. But also he just kind of looks cool like that. He doesn't tend to take the wardrobe — you know, often stars take the wardrobe — but on this show I think he took some of the wardrobe. He really liked it.

We did have a desire to make Will and Sylvia — while they're best friends and similarly in different crisis points in their midlife — represent very different sides of what that can look like. Sylvia lives a very traditional, married domestic life in Culver City, so we thought that Will could be the opposite end of the spectrum, which is crazy hipster downtown L.A. arts district. A very cool scene that he feels like maybe he's aging out of.

How old are your kids?

We have three. We have a 15 year old, a 10 year old, and a 6 year old. It's a nine year spread.

So with three kids now in school, I’m curious where you are in your own life with the question of having fun and figuring out who you are now, after years of parenting?

FD: We have always had fun as a priority for both of us. I don't know how to say it without sounding cheesy. We have always tried to keep one foot in the world of fun, even as we have slogged through 15 years of being parents together. One of the ways that we do it is by working together. We’re both writers, we’re both creative, we both love comedy. It gives us a place in our relationship that has nothing to do with being parents. It means that we get to have our home identity together where we’re like filling out medical records and field trip forms, and then we have fun at work together, too. I know it's work, but it is fun work and it also lets us sometimes get away together for work-related events. We try to do stuff independently of each other, too. To just give each other some space to do stuff that's fun.

We both really need it. Everybody has their own threshold that they can go for, just keeping their nose to the grindstone. We are both nicer, better parents when we have a little bit of life that doesn't revolve around our kids. Raising our kids is the main thing that we do. But, stepping out of it every now and then does make me feel like I have more energy and more focus and presence when I'm with my kids.

Yes! It makes me think of Rose Byrne's character, and her lovely relationship with her husband. In the show, their marriage is quietly solid. It feels refreshing and unique to have this nice, good happy marriage simmering in the background of a whole show about a woman having an existential crisis.

FD: Yeah. They have a good, happy marriage and that will not change over the course of the season. I mean, they have their issues like every married couple, but I don't think at any moment does it feel like their marriage is threatened or anything. Or at least we hope not.

Yes. I love what it says about the fact that you can have kids, and love your kids, love that you chose this, love your husband, and still want something more.

FD: Who among us hasn’t felt all of those conflicting emotions at the same time? As a parent, I would say it’s the thing I'm most proud of and I know Nick would too. Being a parent is the thing that means the most to us, and the thing that we give most of our attention to. But, that doesn't mean that there aren't times when I see myself in the mirror and I'm like, how did this become me? And I feel like that's true for most of my friends.

There’s a hilarious episode where Sylvia goes to a divorce party for a mom from her kids’ school. She's there with her best mom friend and they’re both just hating it. I am curious about those mom friend dynamics. Are those moments pulled from real interactions with peers? They feel really specific, but also deeply relatable in terms of the complicated social dynamics that tend to happen when a bunch of moms gather.

FD: I think a lot of us have different identities based what groups you’re moving in. My college friends see me one way, and my work friends see me another way, and my mom friends see me another way.

I do think that there is a certain like “school community” side of yourself that might not present as your whole self. I feel very warmly towards my school communities, but that doesn't mean that I'm intimately friendly with every single parent who I say hello to on the yard.

There can be a lot of obligation there. And a desire to put your most maternal face forward in those situations. And also the fact is — like with work and with your professional life — you don't always choose absolutely everyone who you're surrounded by.

Right. And your kids’ social well being is at stake too. You don't wanna show up as total hot mess.

FD: At least not every day! Just as in any community, you wanna make sure that you're behaving in a measured way. You're not always saying like, this is what I think about politics, and this is what I think about art. You're just trying to kind of get through it in a diplomatic way.

Anyway, stay tuned! The show just gets crazier and crazier. Sylvia is a character who is sort of underrepresented on television, and I really hope people find her.