Can men and women be friends? 1989's “ When Harry Met Sally ” said no, but Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen disagree.
The pair co-star in the new Apple TV+ series “ Platonic,” debuting Wednesday, about longtime best friends who, as the title suggests, are just that. In fact, the actors had conversations early on to make sure the characters never cross a line.
“I honestly don’t like things about infidelity,” Rogen said in a recent interview. “I just don’t like it. That was something that I was like so clear (on) and something we talked about a lot... ’How do we signal to the audience, ‘that’s not a thing we have to worry about'? They can enjoy the show, laugh and not have this nagging thing in the back of their heads of like, ‘Is she going to cheat on her husband with this guy?’”
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Both Byrne and Rogen, who are each married, say they have longtime friends of the opposite sex.
“I have a lot of friendships with women that I've had for decades and decades and decades," he said. "I still am on a text chain with two girls who I went to an elementary school and summer camp with.”
Byrne recalls a “very intense” friendship she had with a male years ago when they were both struggling actors. The two were also roommates and leaned on each other, as friends do. What brought them comfort was a hot topic among outsiders.
“The amount of people that could not believe that we were not together or hooking up or had hooked up or were going to hook up, it was extraordinary," she said, adding that they still share a bond. “We’re still very, very close friends 20 years later, but it’s harder now. I have kids and a family; we live on other sides of the world.”
The conflict in “Platonic” arises because Rogen and Byrne's characters, Will and Sylvia, are rekindling their friendship after an argument created a yearslong wedge between them.
“They reunite in very different chapters in their life,” said Byrne.
Sylvia is happily married with three kids. Will is recently divorced and has more freedom. The will they-won't they trope is more about will they be able to be the kind of friends they once were after so much time has passed.
There's also an issue of how Will and Sylvia behave when they're together. They revert back to their younger selves, pulling pranks, staying out late and partying. Sylvia's husband, Charlie, played by Luke Macfarlane, is envious that Sylvia is more carefree with Will, while their lives are cluttered with the things they have to do, not want to do. Will and Sylvia also argue about who is more stuck at middle age and not living up to their potential. (The answer: They both are.)
And while Billy Crystal's Harry in 1989's “When Harry Met Sally” was adamant that men and women can't be friends, relationship experts say it's a silly debate.
“It's kind of wild we’re even asking that question in 2023,” said Allison Raskin, a bestselling author and mental health advocate. Her book ”Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression" addresses these topics.
“I don’t think that just because you happen to be attracted to whatever gender presentation the person you’re friends with has, that means there’s a romantic connection there or a sexual one."
Tara Ceranic Salinas is a professor and chair at the University of San Diego's Knauss School of Business who studies ethics and behavior in a variety of settings. She cites a recent U.S. surgeon general's report that called loneliness an epidemic as a reason why friendships of all kind are vital.
“If people really think men and women can’t be friends, you’re eliminating half of the population from your friend groups,” argued Salinas. "You're missing out on social connection, and it actually harms your health.”
The experts also argue that a romantic couple that doesn't allow for outside friendships is a signal of a problem.
“That says something about your relationship," said Raskin. “It says you think that your partner should be able to get everything they need from just you, when we’ve really seen that’s not possible. It puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on couples to be everything and provide everything.”