Where to stream it? Hulu
Starring: Mae Whitman, Carlos Valdes, Katie Finneran, John Hodgman, Andréa Burns, Sophia Hammons, Emilia Suárez
Music by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Written by: Steven Levenson and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel
Produced by: Thomas Kail, Steven Levenson, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, Jennifer Todd
Intro: Up Here Review
The genre of musical television isn’t large, but it certainly has its fans (myself included!). So when I heard that Hulu was releasing a new musical series, I jumped at the opportunity to screen it for a review.
Up Here is an eight-episode musical comedy featuring all-new songs from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the husband-and-wife duo known for their work on Frozen, Coco, and WandaVision. It was originally envisioned as a stage musical by the two of them before being developed as a TV series.
Starring Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes, the show follows a young couple’s blossoming romance in late 90s New York City.
It's All in Your Head
When we first meet Lindsay (Whitman), she is in an unhappy relationship with a life that isn’t really going anywhere. She decides to reboot everything by breaking up with her partner and moving to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.
During a night at a bar, she meets a charming businessman named Miguel (Valdes) and sparks fly between them. After he takes her back to his office for some hanky-panky, he bursts into tears and immediately leaves.
She is left to deal with the aftermath of this odd encounter. Yet this is only part of the story. Both of them have voices in their heads that are represented by a series of people from their past. These people constantly feed them thoughts which affect their self-confidence for better or worse.
For Lindsay its her parents (Katie Finneran and John Hodgman) and a childhood friend (Sophia Hammons). For Miguel its his mother (Andrea Burns), a friend he once caught in bed with his girlfriend (Scott Porter), and his high school ex (Emilia Suáez).
The show delves into the ways the people we’ve met have positively and negatively influenced our thought patterns (as a side note that seems relevant, Kristen Anderson-Lopez double majored in drama and psychology in college).
Up Here explores how difficult it is to really know someone when the conversations we have are only a small sideshow compared to what’s going on in our heads.
This Feels Familiar
The musical numbers in this show are as delightful as you’d hope, filled with both bouncy Broadway pop and some heartfelt ballads. Each episode features approximately 2-3 songs for a grand total of 21 for the season.
Unlike some musical shows of the past (looking at you, Glee) the songs are used not as a gimmicky distraction but play a central role in the emotional punch of the show. And they have fun with the staging, too, opting for dance numbers that take place in a bathroom or in a fantasy circus sequence, among other settings.
After eight episodes of Up Here, however, I wondered if this series would have worked better as a two-hour movie if not in its original medium, as a Broadway musical. Young people figuring out their lives and falling in love in New York City is hardly groundbreaking territory, and it’s hard to stay invested in the characters for the approximately four hours of running time the show has in total.
Still it’s hard not to be charmed by the magnetic performances of Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes who light up the screen with their chemistry.
Final Thoughts: Up Here Review
Showing personified thoughts of its central characters creates an interesting hook for this show. Aside from that, though, I felt like I was watching a story I’ve seen at least fifty permutations of before.
Were it not for the humor and music, I may have felt less inclined to stay tuned for the entire series. Still, for musical fans who’ve enjoyed shows like Crazy Ex Girlfriend or Schmigadoon!, Up Here will provide some charming TV.