January 12, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Togetherness”


TOGETHERNESS:  Sunday 9:30PM on HBO – Potential DVR Alert

With TOGETHERNESS, Mark and Jay Duplass join the pilgrimage of indie filmmakers to HBO, which now has a virtual Sundance Film Festival of its own every Sunday night with the new dramedy joining Girls and Looking.  Of the three, Togetherness appears on first glance to be the one that mainstream audiences would find most immediately engaging.

The Duplasses started their careers with fairly free-form, semi-improvisational “mumblecore” pieces like The Puffy Chair, but in recent years, they’ve experimented with the more structured, star-driven works Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives At HomeTogetherness builds on those, and in fact its plot hook could easily do for a multi-camera network sitcom:  married couple Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey), with one young child and a new infant, and with marital strains of their own, find themselves by the end of the pilot sharing their house with two new roomies:  Brett’s old friend Alex (Steve Zissis), a balding, overweight, bankrupt actor who’s fallen from wannabe to never-quite-was, and Michelle’s older sister Tina (Amanda Peet), a businesswoman whose romantic life is a wreck.  Even the set-piece of the pilot, in which Alex and Tina TP the house of the guy who just dumped her, could easily be imagined in a mainstream comedy.  Unlike the Duplasses’ early work, here the scenes are crisply edited for the most part, without the kind of meandering dialogue that announces itself as improvised, and without shaky-cam handheld camerawork.

On the basis of the opening half-hour, written and directed by the Duplasses (the story is co-written by Zissis, with whom the brothers share “created by’ credit), the result might be the best of both indie and mainstream TV worlds.  Togetherness leans on some familiar tropes (Brett longs to start having sex with his wife again now that she’s given birth but she denies him, Tina is utterly blind to the fact that the creep she’s sleeping with has no real interest in her), but gives the characters enough space so that there’s a naturalness behind the contrivances.  Alex, in particular (according to the show’s promotional materials, he’s based in part on Zissis himself), is distinct from the overweight buddies of heroes of sitcoms like A to Z and Marry Me, in that he’s forthright about himself and only occasionally given to self-pity, and there’s a warmth in the relationship between Brett and Michelle that goes beyond the sitcom storyline of the husband who can’t get laid.  None of the characters, whatever their issues, are merely used as punchlines for the others.

The show, at this point, is confined almost entirely to its four leads, so their skill and chemistry is key.  Mark Duplass has somehow been balancing a busy filmmaking career alongside continuing roles in everything from The League to New Girl and an assortment of movies big and small (his brother is no less the multitasker, now a star of Transparent while writing, directing and producing), and he can deliver punchlines in a seemingly spontaneous way.  Lynskey, who has the most potentially problematic role, brings believable affection to her relationships with her husband and sister, and Peet, as a character not completely unlike the one she played on NBC in Bent, finds an appealing lower key for this performance and a particularly good rapport with Zissis.

Togetherness doesn’t appear to be a breakthrough piece of television, as Girls and Looking have been in their different ways, but it’s found a sweet spot between slick and fumbling.  It continues the profitable colonization of what used to be an indie sensibility into genre entertainment.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."