Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass could have called their new half-hour HBO show Too Close for Comfort, if that title hadn’t been used by another comedy from yesteryear.
Togetherness may work as a better title, though, because it more accurately reflects the compellingly credible mix of comedy and more serious stuff that happens when four people share living space.
Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle Pierson (Melanie Lynskey) are having a kind of mid-marriage crisis. It’s fairly low grade, but that’s because neither really knows how to identify what the problem is. Some of it involves sex, because, well, doesn’t everything? Michelle is never in the mood anymore and Brett is frustrated.
Michelle is bored with her life and looking for both purpose and an outlet. She meets David (John Ortiz), a divorced father, who wants to start a charter school in Eagle Rock. Melanie wants to help, not quite allowing herself to believe she may be interested in David.
The unsteady alliance at the Pierson home is rattled when, first, Brett’s best friend, Alex (Steve Zissis), a plump out-of-work actor, is evicted from his apartment and asks to crash on the couch. Then Michelle’s party-planner sister Tina (Amanda Peet) moves in as well, and you have the makings of something Beaumarchais might have whipped up if he were working in Hollywood in 2015.
But wait, there’s more, as they say on infomercials: Brett becomes oddly mesmerized by a spacey New Age type named Linda (Mary Steenburgen) who is buried beneath a pile of leaves and branches to get in touch with her own death when Brett first meets her. Meanwhile, Alex predictably begins crushing on Tina, who dashes his hopes when she meets Larry (Peter Gallagher), a Hollywood movie producer who goes everywhere with a Pomeranian tucked under his arm.
If a successful real estate deal is all about location, a successful TV show is, at heart, all about writing. Again and again, the greatest shows are the best-written. That isn’t to deny the contributions of directors, actors and technicians, but without a great script, a TV show cannot achieve true greatness.
Togetherness has a great script, written by the Duplass brothers and Zissis. It is rich in telling detail, and the dialogue rings realistically true. From that strong foundation, the four lead actors have built extraordinary performances. It’s not just that they’re entirely believable at all times, but that they are able to bring so many emotional colors to their characters.
Togetherness is billed as a comedy, and it is often very funny, but it also touches the heart. We at least empathize with the major characters. At other times, we’re moved more deeply by them.
The emotional payoff is enormous.
8:30 p.m. Sunday