Sundance TV Review: ‘State of the Union’

British television was well ahead of its American counterpart in its early willingness to embrace abbreviated runs — something that’s only now become common this side of the Atlantic. And now, they’ve come up with a welcome innovation for prestige dramedy: A series whose ten-episode run totals a little under two hours.

Sure, short-form TV is not new. But few entries in the category have as prestigious a pedigree or, likely, as crystalline a central premise as “State of the Union,” a SundanceTV series airing this spring after premiering January 28 at the Sundance Film Festival. Written by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears, the show’s ten-minute installments — representing stolen moments in the lives of an estranged couple as they meet for a quick drink before their weekly joint therapy session — brim with shrewd and twisting wordplay as well as hard wisdom about long-term relationships.

Chris O’Dowd and Rosamund Pike play the couple who are less at the center of the show than its universe; we only fleetingly see anyone who is not them, and hear only banter and recriminations about their relationship. They’re parents, in an inequitable setup whereby Pike’s Louise is both the breadwinner and chief homemaker. (Both actors deliver excellent performances with divergent levels of surprise: O’Dowd’s Tom is a familiar type for him, pleasantly hangdog and underachieving, while Louise reveals a looser, quippier side of Pike than we’ve lately seen, one fueled both by annoyance and affection.) And they’re recovering both from Louise’s infidelity — debating in the first episode whether her short-lived affair was a series of mistakes, or just one mistake made four times — and from the climate that made cheating seem, to Louise, like a good idea.

State of the Union” pulls off a neat trick; given both its short running time and its fleetness of dialogue, we never get tired of hearing this couple’s arguments, which could in other contexts be tiresome and circular. And both partners’ minds are so wide-ranging that — with an assist from Frears’s fleet direction — the show never grows claustrophobic. Both Louise and O’Dowd’s Tom, like so many of Hornby’s characters from “High Fidelity” to “An Education,” love language, and are fun to listen to. (Tom’s comparison of passion as not something one depletes, like gasoline, but something one outright loses, like keys or a pen, is met with a witty and believably off-the-cuff comeback by Louise.) They also manifestly love each other. Their lowest points together are fueled by a believable and compelling confusion that they can’t get things right; their best moments announce themselves suddenly and startlingly, as, in the midst of an ongoing crisis, they’re still able to find humor in their situation.

Some of their best rapport comes, for instance, in the running commentary they deliver on whichever couple whose therapy session precedes theirs. When, one week, it’s an elderly pair, Louise muses, “God, why bother. If we’re still having trouble at their age… Well, we won’t be. I’ll be long gone.” “State of the Union’s” success lies in the fact that even as we laugh at Louise’s dark vision of the future, we never believe it. This show’s short run reveals characters whose humanity, wit, pain, and joy are revealed through their evident commitment to the long haul.

“State of the Union.” SundanceTV. Comedy, 10 minutes. 10 episodes (all screened for review).

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Chris O’Dowd

Crew: Executive Producers: Jamie Laurenson, Hakan Kousetta, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Nick Hornby, Stephen Frears

Written by Nick Hornby

Directed by Stephen Frears

Sundance TV Review: 'State of the Union'

More TV

  • Dan Lin's Rideback, MRC Announce Writers

    Dan Lin's Rideback, MRC Announce First Class of Writers and Mentors for TV Incubator

    Rideback, Dan Lin’s production company, and MRC have announced the inaugural class of writers and mentors for their TV incubator.  The new TV writers residency program, which was launched in February, offers a paid, eight-month residency program to a group of writers who have each previously been staffed on series and want to create their [...]

  • CBS Viacom

    CBS and Viacom Move Closer to Merger Talks

    The CBS Corp. board of directors is moving closer to initiating acquisition discussions with Viacom, according to multiple sources close to the situation. The move has been expected for months, although there may still be obstacles on the road to a reunion for the two sides of the Redstone media empire. Price could still be [...]

  • Santa Fe Studios Netflix

    Santa Fe Studios Competes With Other New Mexico Stages for Streaming Business

    Albuquerque Studios entered the spotlight last October when it was purchased by Netflix. While the complex is clearly the jewel in the crown of New Mexico’s production infrastructure, with eight soundstages totaling 132,000 square feet, 100,000 square feet of production offices, a large backlot and support space, it’s not the only modern studio facility in [...]

  • Wahlburgers

    'Wahlburgers' Renewed for 10th and Final Season at A&E

    A&E has renewed “Wahlburgers” for a 10th and final season. The reality series following brothers Mark, Donnie and Paul Wahlberg will debut the new installment at on May 15. A&E has also released a trailer for the season. Season 10 will continue to focus on the Wahlberg brothers as they balance family and their eponymous [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    From 'Game of Thrones' to 'Big Bang Theory,' Spinoffs Will Keep the Hits Alive

    By this time next year, many of the brightest lights in the current TV universe will cease to shine. Some of the most popular and acclaimed shows are set to air their swan songs this year and during the 2019-20 broadcast season. While programs come and go all the time, the sheer number of iconic [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Empire

    TV Ratings: Jussie Smollett's Final Episode of 'Empire' Season 5 Goes Low

    Last night, Jussie Smollett’s final episode of “Empire” season 5, and potentially his last episode on the show ever, went up in the ratings from previous weeks, but still posted low figures for the series. The episode, in which Smollett’s character Jamal Lyon tied the knot in TV’s first-ever black, gay wedding, returned a 1.1 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content