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Spring 2015 Review: Togetherness

16 Jan


Judd Apatow is the Christopher Columbus of the modern manchild paradigm; he didn’t invent it, but he popularized it so that other movies and shows and trend pieces could be written about the concept. Boy becomes man physically, but refuses to grow up mentally; Knocked Up and The 40-year Old Virgin are both about men pushing through a delayed adolescence to reach a late maturity.

Togetherness focuses on Apotow-style manchildren’s topsy-turvy cousin. Rather than adults who refuse to grow up, Togetherness features adults beaten down by the responsibilities and realities of real life (capital R, capital L), who need to recapture a youthful point of view, let their hair down, and enjoy life for a change. (Togetherness is not alone in this “growing down” movement – FX’s recent Married trods on the exact same ground).

Mark Duplass and Melanie Lynskey play married couple Brett and Michelle. They clearly love each other very much but appear to be stuck in a rut. They’ve got two very young kids and they’re going through the motions, the same familiar rhythms every day, not always necessarily in a bad way, but not in a great way either.

They’re not dysfunctional; they seem to get along easily and well, but there are issues; real life in a relationship with kids is hard. Mainly, as one could guess from a description without having even watched the show, their sex life is stagnant – towards the episode’s conclusion, Brett confronts Michelle straight out, and asks why she’s uninterested in sex with him. She doesn’t know, she replies. These problems are difficult and deep, but not malicious. Again: real married adult life.

Fortunately, just in time to shake up this very stale adult state of affairs, come a couple of interlopers who will be staying with Brett and Michelle. Michelle’s sister Tina, portrayed by Amanda Peet, is far more aimless and less settled than Michelle despite being older, and she decides on a whim, after a week-long trip to visit her sister from Houston, that she wants to stay for good. Brett’s best friend Alex, a struggling middle-aged actor, is evicted from his house at the start of the pilot. He is initially determined to drive back to his parents’ house in Detroit until Brett convinces him to stay with him and Michelle for a spell. Alex and Tina both, while older, have some of the youthful immaturity and sense of fun that Brett and Michelle have lost, and might help shake the couple out of its doldrums.

Alex and Tina join the couple on date night, which is emblematic of the staid status of their relationship. They eat out at a nice but nondescript restaurant and are about to go home. Everyone looks bored out of their minds, chewing and staring at one another as conversation has stalled. Tina and Alex, though, convince the crew to chug some cheap wine, drive over to the house of the guy who just dumped Tina earlier in the episode (played by Ken Marino), and toilet paper his house. By the end of the night, Brett and Michelle have bigger smiles across their faces than they’ve probably had in some time.

The show isn’t a masterpiece by any means, and the middle-class-married-people-having-trouble-with-their-sex-lives has been done enough that it needs more to it to keep it more interesting than the boring lives of the middle aged parents themselves.

The Duplass brothers, star Mark, and Jay, who created the show, along with Steve Zissis, who plays Alex, are foremost contributors to the mumblecore movement, which focuses on naturalistic dialogue. It’s s a strong fit for this type of show, which focuses on a very real and human, rather than sensationalized and epic, series of problems and minor crises. The mumblecore aesthetic is appealing because if nothing else, it’s different; I love the stylized dialogue of Joss Whedon or Rob Thomas, but there’s a place for real life as well, with pauses that are awkward without being British comedy awkward. My biggest concern is that the humdrumness of the generic problems of white middle class married people overwhelms the strength of the characters and the writing, and the show could easily fall on either side of that line going forward.

Will I watch it again? Probably. It wasn’t astounding, but it was halfway decent, short, and on HBO, which buys it some instant credibility.