HBO’s Sunday night programming block, steadily fashioned over the years to serve as the home to Lena Dunham’s divisive Girls, is now making room for some grown-ups. Mark and Jay Duplass’ Togetherness (the brothers’ first foray together into scripted television programming) makes its debut this weekend, sandwiched between Dunham’s twentysomething ladies on the loose dramedy and Michael Lanham’s other-coastal and male-centric alternative Looking, providing yet another look at the inherent disappointments of adult life. It’s a wily addition to the cable giant’s lineup, but it charms emerge in some unexpected ways – mainly, through the charms of a certain co-star.
The series follows four (seemingly) different adults – Mark Duplass and Melanie Lynskey as married couple Brett and Michelle, parents to two cute kids and a host of raging sexual issues, with Steve Zissis (who co-created the series alongside the Duplass bros) on board as Brett’s loserish best pal Alex and Amanda Peet similarly starring as Michelle’s unsatisfied sister Tina. The series premiere opens with Alex, a struggling actor, being evicted from his home and Tina, visiting Brett and Michelle’s adopted hometown of LA, getting brutally dumped by a guy she thought she was dating (Ken Marino, who is gloriously awful and douchey as Craig). The awkward foursome soon inhabit the same house and the show’s premise – what happens when four mostly unhappy adults live together? – is off to a charming, if oddly heartbreaking start.
The show’s first four episodes are somewhat uneven and shaggy, with a number of plot threads being thrown into the mix, only to not get picked back up in the next episode. In particular, Lynskey’s Michelle seems set to embark on a probably ill-advised endeavor by the series’ third episode, though it seems to have been mostly abandoned by the fourth (it does, however, appear to be kind of thing that will pop back up eventually). The Duplasses do stick to the big stuff, though, repeatedly playing up Brett and Michelle’s problems in the bedroom – the pair obviously love each other, but struggle to make sex both a priority and a reality – and Alex and Tina’s growing affection for each other.
Like both Girls and Looking, Togetherness could prove to be too true for its own good – some of its situations are so achingly relatable for its audience that it might not actually prove to be enjoyable. For young parents struggling to make work life, family life and sex life balance, Michelle and Brett’s issues hit too close to home. People who feel more like Alex and Tina, who appear to both be good-hearted and reasonably talented people (even if they can’t make anything work out for themselves), might balk at seeing their own issues tossed up on the small screen. Togetherness is ripped from the pages of everyday life, and that’s not something that everyone is compelled to see. If this is what your real life looks like, why would you possibly want to watch better looking people play act it for money?
But even in its first four episodes (with a current eight-episode order, that’s half of the season), Togetherness displays some unshakable charms, particularly when it comes to Peet’s work as Tina, which is the highlight of the series so far. Peet’s Tina is a sparkling example of just how important casting the right person in the right role is – it’s difficult to imagine another actress who could bring the same levels of desperation, humor and sympathy to the role that Peet does with apparent ease. On paper, Tina sounds hideously unlikable, but through Peet’s performance, she’s actually the most relatable and entertaining character available to us.
An apparently successful party planner in Houston – by the show’s fourth episode, Tina and Alex make a trip to Texas to retrieve Tina’s belongings, an episode that reveals a lovely apartment, a nice collection of friends and the support of Tina and Michelle’s parents, who live close by – Tina’s decision to pack up and move to Los Angeles sounds like a dumb one. Ostensibly visiting the city to hang with her sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, Tina first appears on the show after shacking up with Marino’s Craig. It’s obvious from our first moments with Craig and Tina that he not only sucks (and sucks in a way that only someone as funny as Ken Marino could make someone suck) and that he has zero interest in pursuing a relationship with Tina. Pushing forty, Tina is hellbent on locking down a man, and her inappropriate wardrobe (more than anything, her clothes just look cheap, like, money cheap) is indicative of the disconnect between what Tina thinks guys want and what they actually want.
By the time Craig dumps her via text, Tina is already unhinged, screaming bloody murder in a bathroom and eventually throwing a fit in an outdoor restaurant that would make most people die of embarrassment. She sounds awful, right? She’s not, because Peet’s sense of comedic timing is so well-tuned and her ability to make a character that could be, let’s just be honest here, totally laughable is so perfectly calibrated that we cannot help but love her.
Someone else who can’t help but love her? Alex. Tina, despite her inability to get her own life in order, soon takes an interest in Alex’s troubles – and, as seems to be trademark Tina, her interest appears to be totally genuine and altruistic – and sets about remaking him into a better version of himself. That Tina can’t do the same for herself is obvious, but that doesn’t stop her from setting about improving Alex, particularly as it applies to his failing career as an actor.
By the show’s third episode, Alex and Tina hit a film premiere – Tina convinces Brett, a sound designer, to let the duo tag along to the debut of his latest work – and Tina works her own brand of magic (often just plain lying) to get Alex to walk the red carpet and chat up a producer whose work he admires. The twist is, of course, that Tina goes home with that film producer (he’s played by Peter Gallagher, who can blame her?), irrevocably altering whatever is going on between her and Alex. The real twist is that Tina, even when she is (again) making a huge mistake and obviously hurting Alex, is still likable and sweet, and her crestfallen facial expression when she realizes (vaguely) what she’s done is one of the best, most painful moments of the series so far.
If Togetherness means getting to spend more time with Peet and her Tina, we’re prepared to get good and cozy with this series.
Togetherness premieres on HBO this Sunday, January 11 at 9:30PM.
Related Topics: HBO