Can men and women be friends, or does the sex part always get in the way? The question that was originally posed in When Harry Met Sally gets examined once again in Netflix’s new series One Day. Leo Woodall (The White Lotus) and Ambika Mod star as college students who share a connection on their last night of school, a not-quite hookup that results in a close bond, and as a result, they remain friends for over a decade. In this time, they have their ups and downs, experience intimate moments and heartbreak, all while trying to figure out if they’re destined to be together. The show captures that wistful, all-too-real emotion of loving someone, while trying to figure out if you’re in love.
ONE DAY: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “What are days for?” a narrator asks. “Days are where we live. They come, they wake us, time and time over, they are to be happy in. Where can we live but days?” A moment later, the date flashes onscreen: it’s July 15, 1988 and we’re in Edinburgh. Dexter (Leo Woodall) break dances in the middle of a large circle of people at party that marks the last day at their university.
The Gist: Dex is a wealthy, popular guy on campus at their school. He’s apparently slept his way through most of the women in his class, and when he meets Emma (Ambika Mod) at the campus party the night of their graduation, she most definitely knows who he his; his reputation has preceded him. He, on the other hand, has no idea who she is. On the exterior, she’s cute but a little reserved and mousy, but behind her bookish exterior, she’s sarcastic and cynical and unlike any other girl he’s met. They talk all night and when he walks her home, she invites him in and they make out passionately. Dex is used to women wanting to sleep with him, so he’s a little confused (but also amused) when she only wants to talk and get to know him instead of going all the way. She asks him what he wants to do with his life, a question he’s likely never thought about. The two end up falling asleep without having sex, and then in the morning as Dex tries to sneak out, she catches him and offers him breakfast instead.
Emma is clearly not like other girls. She’s sarcastic to the point of being a little mean to Dex, but that seems to appeal to him, she’s someone who will happily call him on his bullshit. The two of them defy their stereotypical archetypes in that they can see past one another’s exteriors and know there’s a complex person lurking beneath… that seems to be the reason why he sticks around and puts up with it for the rest of the day. As they separate on their last day at campus, they exchange information and keep in touch, and the rest of the series follows them, with each subsequent episode capturing one day (give or take) in their lives every year for nearly two decades. In that time, they grapple with their careers, with their love lives, and with their feelings for one another.
What Will It Remind You Of? The very first episode captures the magic of a crush, and the longing you feel after meeting a person who you share an intimate, special bond with in the same way that Before Sunrise did. The subsequent time leaps in future episodes are like a mashup of that movie’s follow-up, Before Sunset, and When Harry Met Sally, as we trace the ups and downs of the friends who are on a journey to become lovers. (Oh, and there’s one obvious comparison to make here: there was also a movie version of One Day starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, based on the same 2009 book by David Nicholls that serves as the source material for this show.)
Our Take: Sometimes you spend a day, a night, a weekend with a person, and it becomes the defining moment of your young life. This one person, maybe you just met them while backpacking through Europe, maybe you met them at a bar in your city, but wherever it was, that person becomes the most important person in your life for that day, night, or weekend, and they become a key figure in your own personal lore. One Day perfectly captures the magic of meeting that person, but it expands on that to see what could actually happen if you remain a part of their life.
While it might seem that Dex and Em are complete opposites and it’s odd that they’re even attracted in the first place, Woodall and Mod are both exceptional at turning their characters into real people who don’t let their images define them. Yeah, she’s bookish, a feminist, a poet, but she’s also funny and dry and willing to not judge Dex for his reputation. Likewise, he’s your classic playboy, but the fact that Em intrigues him and he keeps coming back to her, despite the judging eyes of their classmates is a testament to their magnetic pull toward one another. Of course these differences will cause some tension, but all relationships have that, it’s human nature. Here, that tension manifests over time both sexually and platonically, it’s the driving force of the relationship and both actors expertly navigate it throughout the course of their lives. Great romances are full of anticipation. When and how will it end? But thanks to it’s novel time structure, excellent performances, truly great soundtrack, and heart-grabbing storytelling, One Day is not only about whether these two find a happy ending together, but what happens after that, too. [MILD SPOILER ALERT: Though Dex and Em do eventually get their happy ending, it’s marred by tragedy, so bring tissues.]
Sex and Skin: There’s a little bit of making out and undressing in the first episode, but there’s a lot more sex and nudity as the show moves along.
Parting Shot: Em and Dex say goodbye to one another, him writing his contact information on a slip of paper to her and telling her he hopes they keep in touch, as The The’s “This Is The Day” – the perfect song for this moment – swells. And then the date changes – it’s now one year later, July 15, 1989, Dex is in Italy, in bed with a blonde, and Em is traveling in a van across England. They’re not together, but this is only the beginning of their story.
Performance Worth Watching: Leo Woodall was so good as Jack in season two of The White Lotus thanks to the way he could be charismatic but mysterious and untrustworthy all at the same time. He harnesses that same dynamic here, embracing both his rich, pretty boy privilege, while revealing an actual sensitive, complicated, layered person underneath.
Memorable Dialogue: “I hope it wasn’t a night wasted,” Emma tells Dexter as the sit together the morning after they hooked up but didn’t have sex. “It wasn’t a night wasted,” he assures her. “It was memorable. Not having sex with you was highly memorable.”
Our Call: It is a will-they-or-won’t-they rom-com? Is it a friendship story? Is it a saga about moving into adulthood and figuring out your life and your priorities and enduring heartbreak and loss? Will it make you cry? Yes, it’s all of those things, and it manages to capture all the muddled, complicated, aching emotions of them all. STREAM IT!
Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Massachusetts. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.