There is nothing fancy or complicated about the premise of HBO’s Togetherness, which has aired one 8-episode season thus far and has been renewed for a second. It is simply about four thirty-something people living under one roof while they each navigate their version of a mid-life crisis. Created by Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, and Steve Zissis (the latter two also star in the show), Togetherness is in many ways Girls for a slightly older set. Everyone does kind of awful things, yet remains at least sort of endearing. Not unlike life, it is pretty bleak at times (although I would argue Togetherness is more successful than Girls with balancing bleakness and humor). But while Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna are struggling to start their careers and find love, Brett (Mark Duplass), Michelle (Melanie Lynskey), Tina (Amanda Peet), and Alex (Steve Zissis) have already sort of done that and are now facing life’s next challenge: what happens when the life you’ve put together isn’t making you happy?
Brett and Michelle are, on paper, exactly where they should be in life. Brett is a sound designer and Michelle is a stay-at-home mom to their two young children. They have a traditional, small yet cozy house in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, and many would think they’re living the dream—except, Brett can only find work on terrible, low-budget horror films that he hates, and Michelle, an educated woman with a sociology degree, is not fulfilled by being a full-time mother. As a result, their relationship is strained to the point where sex is nonexistent. Enter Brett’s best friend, Alex, an aspiring actor and overgrown man-child who moves into Brett and Michelle’s home during one of many rough patches. Tina, Michelle’s sister who, in one of my favorite ridiculous sitcom jobs I’ve seen in a while, literally sells bouncy castles for a living, is similarly floundering after a bad break-up and also ends up moving in. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that an unlikely romance develops between Tina and Alex, two incredibly different and yet surprisingly similar people who are both in desperate need of stability. What is less predictable, though, is the way their story unfolds over the course of the season, managing to avoid many of the most common tropes while remaining the heart of the show.
My personal favorite episode was episode 5, “Kick the Can.” After leaving an upsetting couples therapy session, Brett and Michelle aren’t sure how to go about the rest of their day until Michelle decides she wants to gather their friends for some beer and kickball in the park, just like they used to do in the good old days. Brett would rather have a root canal, but he feebly attempts to rally to give his wife a nice afternoon. It appears Michelle’s plan is derailed before it even begins when a group of young hipsters takes over the park for a game of kick the can—until Michelle convinces them to let the adults play them for control of the field. What ensues is a poignant and hilarious almost bottle episode where Michelle comes into her own for really the first time of the series (while her new love interest, an inspired businessman who seems to be everything disillusioned Brett currently isn’t, looks on). Meanwhile, Alex finally makes his move on Tina, who has a new love interest of her own, a big shot Hollywood producer (Peter Gallagher) who seems to be her chance at the stability she’s been lacking. For me, this episode is when the show finally clicked and became something more than just another dark comedy about unhappy, dissatisfied people. Through a simple game of kick the can, the characters realize some things that set the latter half of the season in motion.
The season ends on multiple cliffhangers, all of which relate back to one simple concept: settling. Tina wants to settle—she feels she’s past the point in her life where she had the option not to, and would rather be taken care of even if the magic isn’t there. Michelle, and, to a lesser extent, Brett and Alex, do not want to settle. They’re convinced something better is out there for them, and they’re determined to find it. The show also does a great job portraying adult friendships. Even when the characters don’t agree with their friends’ actions, they try to be supportive and to understand what is needed from them at that moment. While you can understand why Brett might be frustrated with Alex by now, Alex never hesitates when Brett needs something. Alex and Tina’s relationship is also built on a strong foundation of friendship as she helps him come out of his shell and see himself as the leading man actor he wants to be.
Is Togetherness saying anything earth-shattering that hasn’t been said before on other shows of its kind? No, not really. But it makes you care about its characters, even when they are being completely cringe-worthy, and yet doesn’t overly rely on the cringe-worthy aspects of the humor. Aside from the relationship drama, the love triangles, and the bigger questions about life as you approach 40, the show has a layer of honesty and realism that makes you care about and root for these people to find the elusive happiness they’re so desperately seeking.