TV Review: Togetherness, ‘Family Day’

togetherness-posters

“Family Day” Plot Summary

Struggling actor Alex (Steve Zissis) moves in with married couple Brett (Mark Duplass)and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey), while Michelle’s visiting sister Tina (Amanda Peet) faces her own crossroads.–Credit HBO

If you aren’t familiar, there is a very popular episode of South Park called ‘Simpsons Already Did It.’ It chronicles Professor Chaos and General Disarray’s attempts to cause mayhem in South Park. Unfortunately for the kids, every evil thing they can think of has already been accomplished by Bart Simpson. It drives Butters crazy because every time he thinks he really has an original idea, General Disarray butts in with “Simpsons did it” and dashes his hopes. I am bringing this up because from start to finish all I could think of while watching Togetherness is “Louie did it.”

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

Togetherness would probably be a real game changer if it weren’t for Louie C.K. I’m not just talking about his hit show Louie or his less-of-a-hit-but-still-brilliant series Lucky Louie. I’m talking about his brand of often uncomfortably relatable comedy based on everyday family life. For example, Togetherness opens on a husband trying to initiate sex with his wife and, upon failure, attempts to rub one out silently next to her. He gets caught and has to explain himself. It’s awkward and embarrassing and it feels exactly like a scene from an episode of Lucky Louie. I’m not saying the Duplass brothers plagiarized him or anything. I’m only saying that this kind of refreshing honest family humor feels a lot less refreshing when it has already been done, pretty flawlessly and nearly ten years earlier.

I also think it’s worth noting that I am likely not within the show’s expected demographic. I am a twenty-five-year-old guy who watches movies and television that almost exclusively feature a cameo from Stan “The Man” Lee. So it’s pretty clear that I don’t automatically connect with the problems of “over-the-hill” married couples. That has, however, never stopped me from enjoying television shows about them. Recently Married on FX was a weekly favorite of mine. They were able to really capture what I assume many married couples must deal with while preserving the humor that keeps everything from being too depressing. Hopefully a similar balance can be struck on Togetherness.

The series focuses around the Pierson family headed by Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey). Their main issue in ‘Family Day’ appears to be not wanting to have sex, a common enough sitcom issue. Surprisingly this issue is not resolved by the end of the episode. Usually Ray apologizes to Deborah and that’s that. Problem solved. Togetherness seems like this issue is going to last for the entire season, with the Piersons working through it episode by episode. I can’t say I care very much either way. Brett and Michelle seem to be the least interesting part of the show, and maybe that’s the point. It is too early to tell. Suffice it to say, if you are excited about Togetherness because Pete from The League is in it then you are likely to be disappointed.

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

The character to watch seems to be Tina (Amanda Peet). We meet her in the middle of a “relationship” with Ken Marino and by the end of the episode, not only has the relationship disintegrated but her sanity gone with it and it looks like she will have to rebuild in the weeks ahead. I can’t say for certain if I like Tina or not but I am sure that I like watching Peet’s performance anyway. If you aren’t interested in the predictable Piersons, Tina is sure to keep you interested.

Based on some of the early advertising, Togetherness also has a lot of stock in Alex (Steve Zissis) as a comedic presence, although the first episode doesn’t give him a ton to do. We are introduced to Alex as he hits rock bottom, getting thrown out of his home and moving in with the Piersons. It seems like there are a lot of directions Alex can go in. Will he reignite his passion and find new success as an actor? Will he learn something new about himself and decide to travel a different path? How will a possible relationship with Tina change everything? These are the questions that I am most interested in getting answered as the series goes on.

Hopefully Togetherness can learn one of The Simpsons’ greatest lessons. According to legend, when Conan O’Brien started writing he took the show in a different direction. He started focusing on the more surreal aspects of the family show. He also shifted focus away from Bart and onto the parents. That kind of shift could make Togetherness a lot more entertaining. Shifting focus, in this situation, away from the parents and onto the “kids” (Tina and Alex) seems like it will be a more fun to watch. Also making Brett and Michelle’s storylines more surprising would be a welcome change of pace. And it can be done. For reference, Married‘s pilot episode featured the wife telling the husband to have an affair and then he tried to do it. That was original. Just because married life may be dull and predictable (according to Louie CK, Judd Apatow, and every one else making TV shows on the subject) doesn’t mean TV shows about married life have to be.

Rating: 6/10. It could be good. It’s hard to say at this point.

Togetherness airs Sundays on HBO.

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Matthew Nando Kelly is a very cool and handsome staff writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Aside from TV reviews, he writes about film, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He loves U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. He can also occasionally be found writing lists on Topless Robot and his twitter handle is @NationofNando
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Matthew Nando Kelly is the cool and tough Managing Editor of Pop Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he makes pop culture brackets with fellow writer DJ Chapman.