Togetherness – Season 1 Review
After struggling to find an audience for two years, HBO recently made the dreaded, but not unexpected, announcement that it was cancelling Togetherness. But while a reflection upon the first season of the series offers many things, it gives no insight as to why the show languished in the ratings department.
Joined by Steve Zissis, the show is Mark and Jay Duplass’s first foray into television after establishing both themselves and the ‘mumblecore’ genre in cinemas for nearly two decades.
With the genre gaining critical and commercial traction over the years with films such as Frances Ha and The Squid and the Whale, it would not be outrageous to assume that the genre’s styling would translate over to television. As such, there are undeniable traces of the Duplass brothers’ films within the half hour show, with many scenes being made up of low-key, understated comedy and drama with improvised dialogue, reminiscent of Jeff Who Lives at Home and Safety Not Guaranteed.
As could be assumed from the title, Togetherness’ focus is on relationships, primarily between the four leads. Co-creator Mark Duplass stars as Brett Pierson, an audio technician who shares two children with his wife Michele (Melanie Lynskey), who while happy enough in his marriage, remains disinterested in his job and distant from his wife whose dissatisfaction grows, as does the distance between them. Their increasingly troubling dynamic is further put to the test when Brett’s best friend Alex, played by fellow co-creator Zissis, moves in along with Melanie’s sister Tina (Amanda Peet) who while separate, strike financial difficulty at the same time. Their separateness is soon removed as well as the two damaged characters bond and create their own unique, awkwardly flirtatious dynamic.
While often grouped with shows such as Girls, Togetherness’ grounded approach immediately establishes the show as more mature than its HBO counterpart, offering vignettes into suburban life and peeling back the layers behind the characters’ supposed happiness. While previous instalments into the genre often focus on the directionless-ness of early twenties, these older characters have mostly established their lives and the people around them, with the show instead focusing on the consequences and emotional toll of their choices.
This maturity extends beyond the plot and into the storytelling, with the Duplass’ unafraid to bypass explicitly spelling out the motivations of characters, often letting prolonged silences tell a story within themselves. There is a faith placed upon the viewer to put the pieces together and learn to read these people as they become more familiar. As this familiarity grows, so does the supporting cast, with viewers slowly being introduced to the family and friends of our leads along with new relationships forming. These background parts give a lived-in, realistic feel to the leads, often reflecting how the ‘supporting cast’ of our own lives can drift in and out while still impacting us and our relationships, despite never being seen again.
The Duplass brothers seem to adapt to the episodic storytelling well, giving the characters that their films often rely upon more room to breathe and grow. This longer form allows for the introductions and interactions with these supporting players while also giving the series an ability to focus on a slow-burning plot, avoiding the directionless meandering narratives that their films have previously been criticised for. However, there are certain recognisable elements of the creator’s previous cinematic experience that shine through, a primary one being the low-key, almost static cinematography, never giving a flair to the stagnant suburban lives that these characters find themselves stuck in.
While Togetherness never reinvents the wheel in regards to television, it also avoids the typical trappings of similar shows and carves its own niche. Its balanced blend of drama and comedy relies on the chemistry of its four leads and is all the better for doing so, creating a relatable series for anyone who has ever experienced the ebbs and flows of any relationship, romantic or otherwise.
Togetherness is available on Foxtel channel, Showcase as well as for purchase on iTunes.