TV Review: ‘Togetherness’

togetherness TV Review HBO

On paper, “Togetherness” looks like a conventional sitcom premise: a married couple with two young kids, flanked on either side by the husband’s unemployed best friend and the wife’s zany, man-hungry sister. Yet as created by the Duplass brothers, this HBO series becomes another serialized tale of urban yuppie angst, with a lot of Woody Allen-like soul-searching and an indie-film sensibility. Thanks in part to the cast — perhaps especially Melanie Lynskey — the show proves watchable enough, provided one can get past dialogue like, “I’m trying to dig myself out of the womb of despair.”

A kindred spirit to FX’s “Married,” “Togetherness” casts Mark Duplass (who co-created with brother Jay and co-star Steve Zissis) as Brett, a movie sound guy married to Lynskey’s Michelle, with whom he’s raising children and fretting about things like filling out kindergarten applications.

Still, Brett and Michelle are not especially happy, with the sex part of the marriage having largely dried up, causing each to wonder if there isn’t something more to life — him, eventually, through a spiritual quest; her by beginning to think about another man (John Ortiz) she encounters.

Both find havens to share their concerns with equally self-involved parties: His bosom pal Alex (Zissis), who is forced to admit “the acting thing is not happening,” and moves in with them; and her sister Tina (Amanda Peet), who decides to stay in L.A. after a breakup, while asking Michelle — with members of the group nearing 40 — “Do you know what it’s like to be dating at my age?”

Having the four together doesn’t just create a full house (no, not that one) but also breeds new complications, including Alex’s thinly veiled crush on Tina, whose efforts to jog him out of his funk only stoke those embers.

HBO has sandwiched this newcomer between “Girls” and “Looking,” creating what amounts to a 90-minute block that’s as tonally similar as it is narrow — and, in the case of “Togetherness,” where you’re tempted to ask if you’d like some cheese to go with all that whine. Not that the show doesn’t yield some insights, moments and even laughs, but it generally falls within a limited range of people who talk a lot about their feelings and, in the case of the central couple, don’t let more general comforts get in the way of agonizing about their problems.

To the extent it works, “Togetherness” relies on the vulnerability of the characters, sprinkled with moments of silliness, such as the sort-of guru (Mary Steenburgen) who Brett encounters while wandering through the park during a later episode. (Even during a drought, L.A.’s wooded areas are presumably crawling with such characters.)

Peter Gallagher also turns up as, what else, a Hollywood producer, with the town’s unique quirks essentially becoming a fundamental part of the show, including amusing interludes like Alex being told he’s not fat enough to play the best friend or thin enough to be a leading man.

Bawdy in places and melancholy throughout, the series — like its half-hour bookends — is a snapshot of a particular cohort at this moment, and there are universal elements woven into those feelings of confusion and longing. The challenge is getting people to care, and watching “Togetherness’ ” eight-episode season, it was hard not to periodically think of Rick Blaine muttering to a young woman, “Everybody in Casablanca has problems. Yours may work out.”

TV Review: 'Togetherness'

(Series; HBO, Sun. Jan. 11, 9:30 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Duplass Brothers Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass; co-executive producer, Stephanie Langhoff; directors, Duplass, Duplass; writers, Duplass, Duplass, Steve Zissis; camera, Jas Shelton; production designer, Chris Spellman; editor, Jay Deuby; music, Michael Andrews; casting, Jeanne McCarthy, Nicole Abellera. 30 MIN.

Cast

Mark Duplass, Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet, Steve Zissis, Peter Gallagher, John Ortiz, Mary Steenburgen

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  1. anonymouse says:

    This show was singularly bad. Don’t know if it’s because the Duplass brothers are just over-extended or what but it was hard not to see the Dune storyline as analogous to this pointless, poorly considered show where only as the axe was falling did they decide they needed something like a plot instead of meaningless non-ideas like Mary Steenburgen running a commune, or something. And then their late-arriving plot ideas (stealing sand from the beach, competing with a blonde super-mom in charter-school world) were laughably lame. And the “about this episode” pieces they shot for HBO were a riot of self-delusion. Mark says something about how shows within shows are always so lame that they made the Dune show purposefully lame and then replaced it with a just as lame show for kids? What?

    Just a year ago, Mark Duplass was everywhere crowing about his low-budget, modest return model. If he can’t convert it into something better than this, what’s the point of bothering? And whoever oversaw this disaster at HBO did them no favors.

  2. Katherine says:

    It is a series that you can not miss with the excellent performance of Melanie Lynskey as Michelle that gives a special touch to the story. They should not be missed, it is highly recommended to have a good time .

  3. S double G says:

    this show is classified a comedy but the last episode had no humor whatever. The character Brent, is so dislikeable he should be sporting a black curled mustache..Alex and Melanie are played by good actors but aside from that the show is just typical self absorbed Californian nonsense. Why HBO renewed it is a mystery.

  4. I agree it stank. The characters are not young enough for their angst. There are no appreciative moments and yet these characters aren’t “You’re the worst” type characters. Alex is never going to be leading man material despite hair and weight and if Tina really did start new business, I think its functioning couldn’t be fit in between lunch and babysitting. Its similarity to “Married” is uncanny but Nat Faxon and Judy Greer are delightful because they are so self effacing. Togetherness lacks that quality. Except for Alex, who sacrificed all for a career he narcisistically thought he could have, the rest of the characters should quit their whining and get on with it. Hollywood seems to be making a lot a shows that show the futility of the industry: Episodes, The Comeback to name a couple.

  5. anonymous says:

    It stank.

    • Ditto. Just horrible seeing Amanda Peet overact her role. And the other woman is so unappealing in every way…as a mother, as a wife and as a woman. What a disappointment. The only character I have any kind of real feeling for is for Alex.
      There are no people in this entire world like the other 3. None. Poor writing. Poor characterization. And as someone said, their “angst” is about a decade late.
      Please cancel this show ASAP and bring back Getting On.

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