Up Here: Sweet, Sincere, and Slightly Generic Rom-Com

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Up Here is one of the most sincere musical television series to come along in a while.

It's based on the 2015 musical "Up Here" by husband-and-wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

We're all nostalgic for the 1990s now, so here's a throwback to the rom-coms of the era. It's in no way trying to reinvent the genre -- let's call it an homage.

All the voices - Up Here

Even the general conceit that the main characters have imaginary people living in their heads that they converse with regularly is not so unique. It's not far off from Herman's Head, Inside Out, or the "Dream Ghosts" sequence from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (if you know, you know).

There are some Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist vibes going on, too.

Lindsay & Miguel - Up Here

The original musical came out in 2015 and was described as Annie Hall meets Cirque Du Soleil.

Lopez and Anderson-Lopez are responsible for the songs here, and they are overall lovely, fun, and funny. Robert Lopez is an EGOT winner, responsible for the music of Frozen (with Anderson-Lopez), but also the raunch-fests of The Book Of Mormon, Avenue Q, and some South Park.

Some of the musical numbers are spectacular, making others feel a bit bland.

Up Here Episode 2's "Tiger Shark" is super fun, with committed performances from Carlos Valdes and Scott Porter.

On the bench - Up Here

The staging of a beautiful "Chapter 2" sequence is one of the few numbers that can really only be done on television/film (and hearkens back to Lopez and Anderson's Lopez's contribution to WandaVision). It's a great use of the medium that is often lacking elsewhere.

Sonya Tayeh's choreography is lovely across the board. There's something genuinely magical about people in a familiar, realistic setting just bursting into a graceful, languid dance sequence.

There's some clever and imaginative stuff going on here.

Broadway stalwarts Brian Stokes Mitchell and Norm Lewis feature in two of the wildest, trippiest numbers in the whole thing -- sequences so fantastical that they almost feel out of place. But these men are so gosh-darn enjoyable and charismatic.

(Also, it seems to send the message that drugs are good. Or am I misunderstanding things?)

Ted - Up Here

That's not to say the show is only strong during its big, spectacular numbers. Mae Whitman's take on "The Truth Is" is straight-up gorgeous. It's a beautiful, simple song. These songwriters are at the top of their field for a reason. The strength of this show definitely lies in its musical numbers.

Mae Whitman was made for this type of role -- a sweet, dorky young woman who's a little out of her depth but trying. It would have been nice if she was given more to do, character-wise.

Her singing is decent, and though it gets a bit thin on the higher end, she sells it well. Whitman nails both the heartache and the comedy, particularly with a number like "Please Like Me," which was cut from the original musical.

Carlos Valdes is a star in the making. With his Jeremy Jordan-y voice and his non-threatening Taylor Lautnerish good looks, we have a vulnerable, intelligent young hero, Miguel.

Smiling together - Up Here

His happiness, along with Whitman's Lindsay, is worth rooting for. They are both pleasant and likable and play well off one another. However, they can be incredibly frustrating at times.

So much that would work in a musical feels less believable on television. Maybe it's the rom-com of it, but some situations feel so contrived, and the characters could easily fix their problems if they let each other speak (stop interrupting!) and said what they felt.

Communication is the enemy of rom-com plots, apparently -- it would resolve everything too fast.

There are a lot of tropes at play here. It's best not to think about it too hard. Some actions feel totally out of character, but they do move the plot forward.

Wedding Dance - Up Here

Tonally, Up Here is incredibly wholesome. Even the raunchier parts come off as sweet and innocent. Occasionally a line comes along that stands out weirdly or a sequence that doesn't gel with the rest.

There's a disturbing scene from Up Here Episode 3 that feels way off from the general feel of the rest of the show. It's played for laughs but is genuinely disgusting and horrific. (Maybe I'm sensitive, but if you are as well, be warned). It's like the show is trying to be edgier than it needs to be.

The idea of the voices in one's head has been done, but so much of the humor stems from the performances of these characters. Who do we have living in our heads? Who left a lasting impression at these pivotal junctures in our lives? Who shows up when?

Mothers, for one.

Lindsay's mother - Up Here

Katie Finneran does a lot of the heavy lifting here, as both versions of Lindsay's mom. She's channeling some real Joan Cusack/Christine Ebersole energy, totally unrecognizable from her role as Anne Morris on The Gilded Age (that's versatility, baby!).

Lindsay's mother could easily have been more of a caricature. Finneran's incredible versatility is on full display on Up Here Episode 7.

As Lindsay's father, John Hodgman only gets a little to do, though he does well with what he's got.

The fantastic Andréa Burns is perfect as the head version of Miguel's loving mom. The contrast between the two main characters' versions of their mothers is interesting, too. Both Lindsay and Miguel have mother issues, for sure, but they stem from very different places.

It's a sign! - Up Here

The supporting cast (the head voices) is all quite strong, given the material.

Micaela Diamond, so different from her current Broadway role in Parade, shines (like, well, a diamond) in her small but hilarious role.

Up Here is another one of those "spot the Broadway performer" television shows, so if you're a musical theatre fan, you'll have fun with that.

One of the main issues with the series is that nearly all the other characters in the show, except Lindsay and Miguel, are pretty one-dimensional (until very close to the end).

Out of the woods - Up Here

You can see Up Here's stage origins. Occasionally, it was reminiscent of The Last Five Years, a musical that was made into a movie in 2014, though Up Here is far less cynical.

If you're going to put a stage musical on the screen, how will the medium change the way the story is told, or will it? If not, why bother?

There are lots of nice little touches and lovely, tender moments. It's the human side of things -- these two anxiety-riddled young people are just trying to connect and, despite everything, occasionally succeeding.

The resolution of the "Squid the squirrel" plotline is satisfying and sweet, so props there. The final musical number is joyful and goosebump-inducing -- the perfect conclusion to the season.

So Many Ways - Up Here

This show could easily end with one season or go on with a second, given the way things wrap up.

All the '90s touches are fun, too (the clear phone!), though they could have leaned into a little more. Otherwise, why is it set in the '90s?

The era doesn't add anything to it, except for the Y2K/end of the world theme. Less reliance on technology makes it feel more old school, and the fashion is fun.

Up Here's main issue is that, for all its moments of originality, it feels generic. The characters are ones we've seen before -- how often have we seen the small-town girl who goes to New York City to find herself and ends up falling in love?

Like Me - Up Here

Lindsay and Miguel are likable but juvenile at times. They're too across-the-board relatable and thus lose some needed nuance.

There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments that are truly inspired, but mostly, it's chuckles and the occasional "aw."

We all have these voices in our head that, though they may not necessarily be personified like they are here, telling us we are not good enough, reassuring us about good decisions, berating us about bad decisions, or even preventing us from making decisions at all.

The trick is to drown out the noise -- focus on real people and engage with them.

Up Here Key Art - Up Here

All this is to say, Up Here is enjoyable for the most part.

If you're a fan of '90s rom-coms and/or musicals, there's a lot to love here. It's thin, but it makes for a good binge.

Thankfully all the episodes are immediately available, so just enjoy the ride. It's lovely up here.

All eight episodes of Up Here Season 1 premiere on Hulu on Friday, March 24, 2023.


Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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Mary Littlejohn Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She loves television, cinema, and theatre (especially musicals!), particularly when it champions inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.

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