Mar 9, 2015

TV Retrospective: Togetherness - Season 1

It may not seem like the perfect fodder for a great new HBO series. A couple that is approaching their 40's is forced to have their family move in during hard times. Over the course of eight episodes, they manage to improve their lives while forming unthinkable bonds. There's plenty of tension and humor throughout in ways that feel more mature and complicated than the other Sunday night line-ups of Girls and Looking that the series got paired up. However, over the course of a brief season, Togetherness managed to not only prove that creator and star Mark Duplass is capable of doing anything, he's also able to make an enviably small cast function and produce one of the sweetest and intriguing looks at maturity that this young 2015 has produced. It will be hard for the network to find a new show as lovable in its simplicity as this one.
What gives the show an edge is the fact that it feels in every way antithetical to the HBO model. Its cast is small. It is geared towards older audiences who are more fine having stories reach resolution through air drumming to Rush than big epic realizations or set pieces. In fact, there's moments that don't feel all that spectacular. The nudity isn't used so much for sexuality as it is to express the vulnerability of its characters in times of need. There's communication issues and frustrations that come from a natural place and result in a conflicting vision that isn't always wholly realized, but is usually fascinating to watch.
Among the cast is Duplass as Brett with his wife Michelle (Melanie Lynskey), who are the central couple and are in a decline throughout the season. In one of the more ambitious moments of nudity, the couple have a fight mid-coitus that may be served as cringe comedy, but also comes to bizarre revelations about them on a deeper level. Their inability to find natural attraction possible overthrows the urges and becomes a draw of a personal moment that hasn't been seen on HBO before. Compared to other moments, this is the pinnacle. Still, the discomfort in their own skin allows for the moment to take on deeper meanings thanks to fearless performances.
That's kind of the beauty of the entire show. It is both fearless and reeking of flaws. Its characters may be grown up, but their problems are hurdles still. Unlike their younger counterparts, this isn't a show that embraces schlub culture so much as argues for change. There are moments when the series expresses relationships in decay whether through physicality or mentality. Its supporting cast featuring Tina (Amanda Peet) and Alex (Steve Zissis) follows a subplot of a different kind of romance that features nudity, but more as a motivational technique. Their relationship is platonic and exists only to help Alex lose weight and become a premiere actor.
In the traditional sense of a Duplass production, it is very nuanced and relies more on the conversations that surround these achievements. They contemplate their importance in life as they deal with kids and come to terms with their place in life. They have aspirations, but it's sidetracked by others at many turns. With excellent camerawork throughout, it manages to be thoughtful without every losing sight of who the characters are. The series benefits from chemistry and finding the maturity of its characters through the least likely means. It isn't a repulsive show so much as a humbling one that sets out to make compelling characters.
It isn't a perfect show, but it is an impressive one at that. Duplass has yet again proven his ability to find the humanity in his stories. With a solid cast that is producing some of the best uncomfortable comedy of the year, it manages to be an exploit of something that isn't often seen on TV. It is growing up and realizing that life is a lot more complicated. What once seemed alluring is now fading in favor of other fancies. It is an honest yet funny look at life. Much like other freshman series on HBO, its short run is more of an annoyance than a relief, as it leaves a lot of questions on where things will go from here. What will happen to its cast, who are delightfully fractured and call for resolution? For now, we have these episodes to entertain and remind us of the potential of comedies that are character driven while not being based around lazy stereotypes. Maybe it doesn't seek the heights of Men of a Certain Age, but it does find different ways to express the vulnerabilities. Not bad for a show about aging and irrelevance.

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