The producers of “Togetherness” didn’t know that Sunday’s season-ending episode would in fact by the program’s series finale when it was shot. Yet the second-season finish did provide elements of closure, albeit in a fashion that was steeped in sentiment, especially if that’s the last glimpse of these characters.
Created by brothers/filmmakers Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass with Steve Zissis, “Togetherness” has always played like a sort-of companion to HBO’s “Girls,” reminding the obsessive, self-absorbed 20-somethings on Lena Dunham’s series that getting older and having kids doesn’t necessarily spare one from angst, emptiness and confusion over the question posed in the old song, “Is that all there is?”
“Togetherness” has also zeroed in on those yuppie problems in a manner that, like so many deeply personal projects in this genre, can seem as if these folks think they are the first ever to experience any of these emotions. Indeed, for every person who could identify with the characters and situations, there was surely another who sampled the show and thought, “Quit your belly-aching.”
Over the course of the series, the central couple of Brett and Michelle (Mark Duplass, the terrific Melanie Lynskey) had their marriage tested through, among other things, his nagging unhappiness and her infidelity. Meanwhile, his pal Alex (Zissis) finally enjoyed a measure of professional success as an actor but continued to harbor feelings for Michelle’s sister Tina (Amanda Peet), who became jealous seeing him dating someone else, and at one point was bluntly told that she’s no longer “hot” enough to behave like the imperious high-school beauty she once was.
In the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), the producers ultimately reunited – and then united – the two couples. Brett returned home, and Alex and Tina began kissing. But it got there in the most clichéd manner possible, with the parents brought back together after a minor crisis/scare involving one of their kids; and Michelle achieving redemption/revenge at the charter school, thanks, conveniently, to an impromptu adaptation of the awful version of “Dune” on which Brett and Alex had been working.
If “Togetherness” has been distinguished by its indie-film sensibility, the finale made it feel more like a standard-issue studio romantic comedy, down to the musical score. And while that might be crowd-pleasing under certain circumstances, it’s not like the show ever attracted a particularly sizable crowd in the first place. (In their farewell to fans the Duplass brothers thanked the “millions” who had “tuned in to watch a personal, niche show about sensitive people,” which clearly puts a generous spin on the meager ratings.)
Of course, a pay service like HBO doesn’t have to be all things to all people, rather patching together a programming quilt that appeals to different constituencies. By that measure, “Togetherness” did connect with a small portion of its base, although whether their passion translates into an ardent commitment to subscribing probably applies to a very few, and the “I’m so mad I’ll drop HBO!” venting in these situations is usually a pretty idle threat.
The fact that “Togetherness” wound up concluding on a relatively happy note doesn’t necessarily mean that all will be happily ever after. For characters such as these, life goes on even if the show doesn’t, and searching is simply an aspect of the reality that the producers sought to capture. But then again, another facet of that reality is the harsh truth that when a TV program doesn’t attract many viewers – even on a premium channel – it’s often not possible to control the timing and terms of its exit.