Excavating through the vastness of television history to feature programs from broadcast past that were critically maligned and/or lost on the way to home video.
The decisions Togetherness makes in its season finale are poignant and borderline tragic not just because of what they mean for these characters’ futures, but because the entire season has been leading up to some manifestation of these confrontations. The slow sense of foreboding that has surrounded Michelle and Brett’s marriage or Alex and Tina’s friendship allows the audience to marinate in the anticipation of a catastrophe, making the end points of each of the four in “Not So Together” much more gut wrenching than if they were to arrive completely out of left field.
For a group of adults with careers and children of their own, the core four of Togetherness are honest with themselves and each other approximately seven percent of the time which is to say barely at all. Their relationship problems, work issues, self esteem difficulties, or otherwise are for the most part worked out within their own tired and overworked minds. If they ever look to each for advice it is taken with a hundred grains of salt and a healthy dose of rationalization, and even they no one ever follows through with much success. Thus far, these strategies haven’t gotten the group very far so when “Ghost in Chains” blows their self-built barricades to smithereens it is a welcome and momentum-building moment. From the opening scene where Brett comes across Mary Steenburgen’s possibly unhinged Linda lying in the forest, a blanket of honesty juice befalls everyone on screen.
The worst part of growing older is starting to realize that you aren’t the same person and can’t do the same things as when you were younger. Then, the understanding sets in as to what that means for your future. Maybe the class president or the hot girl in high school aren’t always the center of attention two decades down the road, and it takes a lot of small incidences to reach the point where that reality takes root permanently in your mind. Do things like humor, charisma, and love for a partner fade? What kind of work does it take to sustain happiness that is last memorable as distantly as five or ten years previously? This is where Brett and Michelle, and to a certain extent Tina and Alex, find themselves in “Kick the Can”, Togetherness’ fifth episode and halfway point of its debut season. Fresh out of what could be their first session of therapy or seventh time going, they both feel drained. Committing to discussing the problems in their marriage is a big step to take but actually following through and talking about their issues and how to move past them is clearly far more difficult than either of them expected it would be in that hotel room.
One thing Togetherness does so well each, without even seeming like it has to work that hard to achieve it, is the way each new detail or drip of backstory about these characters seems completely natural as it is introduced. Even if an insecurity or personality tic arrives without prior discussion in previous episodes or allusions from other characters, everything melds together in a way that reflects life experience. The best example of this is the gradual return of Tina’s Texas accent as she gets closer to Houston, beginning with the surfacing of “y’all” on the plane and culminating with her drunk Southern Drawl. Not one character knows or expects everything that comes out of another’s mouth and to pretend otherwise would not be an honest representation of interpersonal relationships. Even Michelle and Brett, together for a decade or more, are continuously finding new ways to speak their minds that shocks their partner and at points even hurt them.
The first episode of Togetherness established just how static each of these characters’ lives is day in and day out, their routines taking on lives of their own the repetition is so ingrained at this point in their lives. So naturally the second episode is mostly about ways Michelle, Brett, Tina, and Alex can break out of the ruts they find themselves in both career-wise and in life. Surprisingly, Tina is the one who spurs the rest of the group to try different things, alter their perspectives, and find even the smallest bit of initiative even if she can’t do that for herself. It is a tale as old as time, the ones who can’t convince themselves to change are the best at enabling others to do exactly that. Tina’s pep talks to Alex and Michelle are not perfect, and she doesn’t even fully think through the advice she is imparting, but her confidence in the moment is more important than the actual words and that alone is enough to light a fire under her friends.
If Togetherness was only about Amanda Peet’s Tina being dishonest with herself about how her behavior around men and friends affects the rest of her life, it could be a great show. Peet is performing far out of her normal lane with this zany, insecure women who either cannot or refuses to acknowledge social cues from men she dates. Long the straight woman in her television and film roles (except for Bent- RIP Bent!), Peet is impossible to look away from here, constantly the most entertaining yet cringe-worthy of the four main characters introduced in the pilot. Her misguided attempts to force a relationship out of what is so obviously a brief hookup with a perfectly cast Ken Marino is only the tip of the iceberg for Tina, as she sets all her hopes on one guy only to see them dashed when he “breaks up with her” via text message.
It is an inherent belief that the holiday season and family gatherings go hand-in-hand like puffy earmuffs on an exposed frozen ear. Well, writer-director (and co-star) Joe Swanberg backs up this assertion with his dysfunctional familial gem Happy Christmas. The gift-giving in Happy Christmas is predicated upon breezy disillusionment, personal and professional malaise, and the underscoring of being unfulfilled. Once again Swanberg puts his unique stamp on the microscopic root of relationships and the fragile consequences of coping with the pressures of such interaction.