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Togetherness (Courtesy of HBO)
Courtesy of HBO

 

Jay and Mark Duplass, better known as the Duplass brothers, are largely known as the purveyors of “mumblecore,” an indie film niche characterized by low-budget production values and mostly improvised dialogue. Their 2005 debut, “The Puffy Chair,” follows a man as he drives across country to retrieve a replica puffy lounge chair that belonged to his father years ago.

10 years after their breakthrough with “The Puffy Chair,” the Duplass brothers’ work has ranged to new highs with films like “Cyrus,” in addition to a large number of acting roles. Mark is best known from the film “Safety Not Guaranteed” and the FX series “The League,” while Jay plays a supporting role in the Amazon series “Transparent.”

As if the rise in their careers wasn’t great enough, the Duplass Brothers have partnered with HBO for their first television series, “Togetherness.” Not only is the show placed perfectly in the network’s Sunday block of “strolling-through-life” dramedies (“Girls” and “Looking”), but also another winner in the brothers’ mumblecore-inspired filmography.

Set in the Eagle Rock suburb of Los Angeles, “Togetherness” centers on married couple Brett and Michelle Pierson (Mark Duplass and Melanie Lynskey) who, in the midst of struggling to spice up their marriage, get new company in their house with Michelle’s wandering sister Tina (Amanda Peet), and Brett’s recently-evicted friend, Alex (Steve Zissis). All of them are discontent with various aspects of their lives, and each episode deals with them trying to attain happiness, which usually lead to blends of comedy that are mostly comprised of awkward situations and stinging one-liners.

Duplass and Lynskey are considerably natural as Brett and Michelle, but it’s Zissis and Peet who steal the scene as Alex and Tina, respectively. Not only do they both have spot-on comic delivery, but also exhibit a sweet and authentic friendship between each other.

The pilot episode is a great setup for both the series’ set-up and three-dimensional personalities of the characters. In the span of 30 minutes we learn so much about the four leads, all of whom personify the type of middle-aged people that didn’t make it big in LA.

Episode two, titled “Handcuffs,” is full of cringe-worthy and hilarious moments, including a negotiation between Tina and Alex over how many seconds he could see her topless in exchange for him working for her.

A struggling actor, we can’t help but cheer for the “follicularly challenged,” overweight Alex to make it in Hollywood, and Tina is the perfect motivator to help him get there. As he spends the majority of the third episode struggling to make small talk with a big-shot Hollywood producer (Peter Gallagher), Tina pushes him to open up and talk about more than two-ply toilet paper.

Like numerous other projects by the Duplass brothers, “Togetherness” doesn’t shy away from touching upon mature themes of middle-age adulthood tribulations and life satisfaction. None of these moments are portrayed in an overly serious way, and instead blend seamlessly together.

Like the mumblecore genre itself, the show might not appeal to audiences the size of “Game of Thrones,” but “Togetherness” will certainly gain a niche audience. If cringe comedy and wandering plots aren’t your thing, at least watch it for Duplass’s and Zissis’s synchronized air-drumming sequence to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”

 

 

RECOMMENDED: “Togetherness” shows the Duplass Brothers at their best yet again, and that they should make more television shows in the future.

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