The Duplass brothers have been in the independent film game for years, creating low-budget films that intimately and effectively explore the nature of family and personal relationships. The two have made names for themselves as writers, directors, and as actors (Mark Duplass stars in The League and Jay Duplass is in Transparent), and their new show on HBO, Togetherness, allows them to do what they do best, just in a shinier package.
The series follows Brett and Michelle (Mark Duplass and Melanie Lynskey), a married couple living in LA with their two young children. They're grounded, normal people who emotionally and, in a way, financially support Brett's best friend Alex, a struggling actor played by frequent Duplass collaborator and Togetherness writer Steve Zissis, and Michelle's emotionally unstable, "woo girl" older sister Tina (Amanda Peet). What results is something that is funny and emotionally satisfying.
In the pilot, as in most of the Duplass brothers' films, not much actually happens. But it still manages to be compelling. Alex is evicted and has to stay on Brett's couch. Tina is dumped by her baseball cap-wearing, self-obsessed fuck buddy (Ken Marino, who's brilliant as always), and decides to stay with Brett and Tina instead of returning to her home in Texas. A grouping of four very different adult people living under the same roof could easily seem like a sitcom trope, but here it feels completely natural. None of their interactions, conversations, or chemistry feels contrived. We are flies on the walls that surround their normal, sometimes uneventful, but always genuine lives.
The greatest thing to come out of Togetherness is the opportunity to see Lynskey in a starring role every week. She’s the kind of performer who can express several emotions with a single look—I would watch her watch paint dry, but luckily I don’t have to. In a quiet moment in the first episode, Brett and Michelle make a plan to take their infant son into the ocean together. While at the beach, Alex playfully scoops up the baby and dips his feet into the water. The look on Michelle’s face as she’s robbed of that moment with her son, a gut-wrenching combination of complete devastation and a smile to brush it off, should earn Lynskey every award that an actor could possibly receive.
It’s refreshing to watch a simple show on television, one that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, overwrought drama, or slapstick humor for interest. For all its subtly, I couldn't look away. As long as the Duplass brothers remain at the helm and HBO realizes what a gem it's got on its hands, I imagine Togetherness will only get better.
Togetherness, Sundays at 8:30 PM on HBO