Fans of The League on FX will already be familiar with Mark Duplass, who portrays charming slacker Pete Eckhart on that show. But on the new half-hour HBO series Togetherness (which he has co-written and co-directed with his brother Jay Duplass), Mark Duplass plays the far more hapless and uptight sound editor Brett Pierson. Brett and his wife Michelle (Melanie Lynsky) are languishing in their relationship, finding that marriage and children have left them unsure of what’s next. Togetherness explores that and more, from the Pierson’s home base in the L.A. neighborhood of Eagle Rock. Hit the jump for my Togetherness review.
Like Looking and Girls, Togetherness (which will run in a programming bloc with them) is set up like a comedy, but isn’t one. It can have some very, very funny moments, but it’s wrapped up in a lot of serious issues, which only grow more intense as the show runs through its eight-episode season.
Togetherness explores Brett and Michelle’s relationship at a time of transition, as they near 40. When the series starts, Michelle’s hot mess of an older sister Tina (Amanda Peet) is currently living on their couch, while she also tries to sort out her life. Pete’s kind best friend (and floundering actor), Alex (Steve Zissis), also ends up staying with the Piersons, after he’s evicted from his apartment.
At first, Brett and Michelle use Tina and Alex to help cover up the problems in their relationship, even bringing them on date nights and family outings. But eventually, the cracks that are apparent in the premiere continue to deepen throughout the season, as the foursome struggle to stay together while moving apart. While all of the characters evoke certain moments of humor and pathos (and charm, especially Lynsky), none do so more adroitly than Zissis and Peet in their roles. Tina and Alex are desperate in some regards, but incredibly vulnerable in others, and they find ways to both soothe and exploit those aspects within each other throughout the course of the season.
The Duplass brothers’ style (they have also collaborated on a number of movies together, but this is their first foray into television as a pair) is both a comfortable and uncomfortable kind of normcore. The conversations, situations, and interactions on the show can feel familiar, natural, and honest, but that’s also what can make them difficult. As Brett and Michelle explore the changes in their relationship, the raw (though sometimes darkly funny) truth may feel too close to home.
Unlike the FX series Married, which explores similar issues, Togetherness is not bitter. Marriage is not terrible, and family is not a loathsome drain. Michelle is not a shrew, Brett is not a loser, and Alex and Tina pretty quickly become more than sidekick caricatures.Togetherness — like Looking — just follows a group of friends and relations who are taking things day by day, and looking for happiness where they can. It can be sad, dramatic, hopeful, and confusing.
But Togetherness can also be — and often is, especially in its early episodes — hilarious. It has a clever perception of L.A. and the Hollywood industry, but there’s also some well-executed physical humor (Duplass is not shy about nudity, and it works to great effect). Unfortunately, the brothers Duplass don’t seem to trust that the more subtle humor is coming across, and make the wrong decision to zoom the camera in during certain comedic beats. It makes the series suddenly self-aware (think The Office, or other mockumentaries), taking viewers out of the natural feel.
But overall, Togetherness is the perfect addition to HBO’s current batch of restless, searching, half-hour Sunday night shows. And a tip if you aren’t convinced by its first episode: it may be better viewed in batches, rather than week by week. It (like its characters) gains depth and emotional momentum as it matures.
Togetherness premieres Sunday, January 11th at 9:30 p.m. ET on HBO