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TOGETHERNESS Review: Life’s Calamity is Better When It’s Handled, Well, Together

Despite our best efforts, being a human today is incredibly messy business. Once the realization hits that nothing you’ve been led to believe up until this point is really all that relevant anymore to modern living, well! Things can get a little harried (to say the least). But whether you’re going it alone or trying to raise a family, one thing Mark and Jay Duplass’ HBO TV series, Togetherness, has taught us is, like it or not, we’re all in this business of life together. But that’s what makes things so touching, funny, outrageous, and poignant.

Fans of the brothers Duplass are sure to be familiar with their mumblecore brand of emotional storytelling. Small moments of subtle intimacy flesh out the larger touchstones of human behavior and all that complicates it: relationships, expectations, inner wants versus outer portrayals and everything in between. Themes that are no different in what’s happening in Togetherness. Four thirty-and-fortysomething year olds living in Los Angeles, trying to figure it all out after the realization that, Hey! You don’t figure everything out in your twenties like they tell you, and you really sort of have to make it up as you go.

Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey) have two kids and a — from the outside — seemingly solid marriage. Their barely there stability is then upended when Brett’s best friend Alex (Steve Zissis) and Michelle’s sister Tina (Amanda Peet) are forced, by their own circumstances — he’s a recently evicted, dead-broke actor, she an erratic, recently dumped Houston gal changing everything for the sake of restlessness — to move into the house with Brett and Michelle.

What’s remarkable about this show is how — on a network filled with the bombastic likes of Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, and True Detective — truly unremarkable most of its moments are (that’s the Duplass Brothers for you, though). It is through this sort of business that expectations and the so-called cliches of relationship storytelling can be sidestepped in order to bring about an honesty that sometimes feels revelatory in regards to playing out on-screen. And yet the show’s modus operandi really shines through here: through the earnest passion, attempts at real intimacy and connection, the absurd reality of modern humanity reveals itself in comedic glory. Togetherness is what many people wanted FX’s Married to be, only with a far less angry about the idea of marriage than its Judy Greer and Nat Faxon contemporary.

Togetherness‘ true star is — perhaps surprisingly — Amanda Peet, whose comedic turn as the frenetic Tina really anchors the show’s ethos. Here is a woman that is slightly a “mess” by popular culture standards, but she owns it, lives in it, and chews it all up as she goes. She wants but does not understand said wants; she loves but is afraid of what that might mean; she plays the hard-nosed cynic exterior but clearly has a sentimental center.

And she’s hilarious in that realness, particularly when partnered with Alex. Theirs is a relationship that feels incredibly honest in its origins and only adds to the comedic and awkward heart of the show. And her dynamicism is made all-the-more interesting when juxtaposed to her relationship with her sister Michelle. Tina is more than the “desperate crazy woman” guest star Ken Marino accuses her to be — she’s volleying many different hats, unsure which one to which she might finally commit. It’s a world with too many options and expectations and Tina is at the forefront of that emotional trip.

Brett and Michelle are on a far different path, but its no less marred by emotional dishonesty and earnest attempts at making it work. There’s a sex scene in episode four, for example, that is both devastating and trainwreck-y to watch as these two try to connect on an intimate level — so clear is their love and respect for one another — disintegrate under the pressure of their own desires. It’s almost as if they love and respect each other too much, not wanting to cause hurt but clearly creating a gulf in the process.

Like other brilliant HBO comedies Getting On and The Comeback, Togetherness comes, well, together, because of the honest lens with which the Duplass brothers project their intent — regardless of how uncomfortable and/or awkward those moments might be. Because that’s life. And if you can’t laugh at that well then, shit, good luck out there. Because it’s a hell of a trip but it’s all a lot easier to swallow when you’re honest and united. Besides: everything’s better when you’ve got someone by your side to laugh at it all, too.

Togetherness premieres on HBO Sunday, January 11th at 9:30PM. Will you tune in? Let us know in the comments.

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