Togetherness, Season 1, Episode 1: “Family Day”
Written by Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, and Steve Zissis
Directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Airs Sundays at 9:30pm (ET) on HBO
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. Even though this is the first time the audience sees Tina react this way to the end of a possible relationship, the way Michelle responds to her sister’s manic outburst makes it clear that this is far from the first instance of Michelle and Brett dealing with Tina’s overblown behavior. Despite her antics throughout the episode, she is the only person who identifies the best way to improve her life, that what she needs is a change of scenery in order to make herself feel better and look toward the future. Her decision to stay in California rather than return to Houston may be a sudden and borderline random choice, but the identification of a support system she can count on is accurate and as made apparent in this episode, she could certainly do worse for herself.
If Togetherness was only about Michelle Lynskey and Mark Duplass’ married Michelle and Brett working through their issues in the bedroom while also serving as the most stable people out of all of their directionless friends, it could be a great show. Their storyline in “Family Day” centers entirely around the fact that they are no longer having sex, which is a potentially rote and predictable plot. If fumbled at all, it would be no better than a mediocre Everybody Loves Raymond episode. But the mix of honesty and embarrassment in their conversations is real in a way that marriages are usually not portrayed in half hour comedies, in that they don’t always know why they are or are not making certain decisions. Michelle is confident enough in her marriage that she has no problem admitting to Brett that she doesn’t actually know why they’ve stopped making love, but gets embarrassed just trying to explain to Tina the ways in which she was masturbating when he walks in the room. They love each other deeply, which is established so naturally in the pilot it almost seems like a non-story, and yet they still spend more time relishing the joy that is taking their son in the ocean for the first time or supporting their flailing friends than they do explicitly working on their marriage. Normal spouses with issues don’t just drop everything around them to immediately focus on each other, so it makes sense that that wouldn’t happen here.
If Togetherness was only about Steve Zissis’ out of work and broke actor Alex moving in with his married friends to reassess his life and choices, it could be a great show. The sad sight of Alex eating mini-donuts in a driver’s seat to make himself feel better is something many viewers can relate to and gives the audience an immediate sense of the lack of confidence and motivation he has at this point in his life and career. As he so clearly lays out, he is a middle-aged man with little to no acting prospects and even less hair. Yet he is not beaten down by life and the reality of Hollywood so completely that he can’t see the merits of sleeping on Brett and Michelle’s couch instead of making a rash decision and leaving town. He is sad, but not depressed. A sad sack at times, but not pathetic. His selfless, yet crazed, move to be Tina’s saving grace as she humiliates herself in a public forum is the only time all episode something that could be categorized as “an event” actually happens and it sets the tone just right for the direction both Alex and Tina are heading. Does the world of half-hour comedies (or television in general, for that matter) need another white, male, out of work actor storyline? Probably not. Based on the brief glimpse the pilot gives of his current state of mind though, there are interesting things to be done in his third of the show as it moves forward. Alex is the least fully realized and most traditional of all the characters, which means he has the most room to be tweaked as the season progresses.
If Togetherness focused on any of these people and their problems, it would probably be a really good show. But it doesn’t, it is about all of them as their self-doubt, uncertainty about life, and at times complete lack of common sense intersect. “Family Day” creates a version of life in California that is just close enough to the painfully realistic side of fiction that Togetherness doesn’t seem like another aspirational Hollywood story, even if it does have some of the hallmarks of industry comedies. This is to say, here the Duplass brothers find a way to translate their emotionally realistic work to television, taking a familiar but not identical approach to their films and making Togetherness an intriguing and positive start to HBO’s comedy slate in the new year.