Appointment Viewing: Melanie Lynskey and Togetherness

Checking in With… is a regular column which features a Spinoff writer watching one or more episodes of a current show and attempting to decode its appeal. This week: Togetherness, Melanie Lynskey’s new vehicle, helmed by the Duplass brothers. //

Episodes Consumed:

Season one, Episodes 1-3

What’s it about?

The show centres around Brett and Michelle Pierson (Mark Duplass and Melanie Lynskey), a variation on the kind of wholesome white American family who formed the centrepiece of basically every TV show made before 1990 and most made since. They live in one of those big clapboard houses with a porch and an unfenced lawn – like a fancier version of your own or your friends’, probably. Life looks pretty damn sweet and entirely lacking in potential for drama or comedy – problematic for a half hour dramedy.

The makers remedied that by importing a pair of ‘screwups’ to bunk in with the Piersons – Michelle’s pretty, boozy sister Tina (Amanda Peet), and Brett’s fat, bald and self-conscious best friend Alex, an extremely out-of-work actor. Hijinks ensue, obviously.

Who’s it for?

AR-AI356_Televi_GV_20150108200521Me, essentially. And people like me. I’m 35, three kids, wife, mortgage and all that. I gaze out wistfully at the lives of my childless friends and tell myself stories about how I don’t want to be changing nappies in my fifties or how much unfettered joy I get out of all this stuff. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to occasionally (read: frequently) getting extremely envious of the more footloose and fancy free of my generation. The show follows films like This is 40, or the DuPlass brothers’ own Jeff, Who Lives at Home in exploring similarly innocuous themes.

What’s working?

The characters are all extremely engaging, probably because they’re so familiar. There’s no period of adjustment to the show’s world – you know where the furniture is and what their hangups are in advance. Lynskey is great as a sexually frustrated mother right on the cusp of doing some proper weird stuff out of boredom and a sense of time slipping through the hourglass too fast. Steve Zissis (Alex) is a spit for a young Belushi, and has some of the same coiled intensity. His interactions with Peet are the main narrative driver – the married couple mostly just do married couple things – and their prickly-but-sweet relationship is fun to watch evolve.

What’s not?

This feels like an intentional swing away from the edgy-and-dark anti-comedy of Louie and Girls toward something more conventional and approachable. No part of it feels remotely original, and even the jokes have a vaguely recycled air. I don’t mind in the slightest, what with it being aimed squarely at me, but if you find middle class values and humour nauseating (and who could blame you) then Togetherness might turn your stomach.

Should I get amongst it?

If Togetherness had an NBC peacock before its title screen rather than some HBO static, I wouldn’t have blinked. It’s probably the safest show the channel’s commissioned since the godawful How to Make it in America. But despite being extremely conventional there’s something not-quite-right throughout – like the characters have gotten this far in life doing what they’re told, but are maybe about done with all that. In the most recent episode to air, Lynskey flaked out on a premiere to dress up, bum a cigarette off some kids and dance around the idea of picking up some barwart. It was fun, and a little exhilarating, and it feels like there’s more where that came from.

Togetherness plays on SoHo, Thursdays at 9pm

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