Mark Duplass continues to hit a nice balance in his career, appearing in productions of higher visibility like FX's The League while maintaining a semblance of sanity in working with his brother Jay are more modest and emotionally deeper things like Jeff, Who Lives at Home. In his latest HBO show the brothers Duplass appear to have a gem of a story.
Togetherness is created and directed by Jay and Mark, and Mark stars in the show. He plays Brett, a sound effects worker for various Hollywood productions. He's married to Michelle (Melanie Lynskey, Up in the Air), they have a couple of kids and their family appears to be in good order. Michelle's younger sister Tina (Amanda Peet, The Way Way Back) is younger and a bit more extroverted than her older sister, and Brett's friend Alex (Steve Zissis, Do-Deca-Pentathlon) is an expiring actor who has just been let go from his most recent job, and he and Tina have to share the same place, which is Brett and Melanie's house. The eight-episode first season run shows us their trials and tribulations.
The premise behind Togetherness as I believe I've heard it mentioned is that the Duplass brothers wanted to create a show where people in their thirties and forties find themselves directionless or even have slept through having a couple of kids and a wife and are searching for some sort of entertainment, grasping at moments of immaturity (like getting drunk on screw top wine and toilet papering an ex-boyfriend's house) or even searching for larger satisfaction that what may be in front of them. Some of the moments are uniquely relatable to people in their thirties and forties, said TP scene was set to Youth Gone Wild for some sort of relation for the viewer, but the characters are such that you go beyond the songs that may date the viewer and relate immediately to them.
From a performance perspective, the quartet is excellent for most of the run. The obvious best of the bunch is Zissis, whose work with Alex borrows from the charm he brings to other Duplass films and it's felt in Togetherness, but there is an intellectual sense that is in Alex that is welcomed. Zissis is a bigger guy and plays it with a certain Farley-esque sense of self-awareness, but he's also a guy who has his own feelings (we don't get that in his other work for Jay and Mark I think), and the ‘B' plot interactions and dynamic between Alex and Tina is less about looks and more about personality and really makes for some charming moments in the show.
The primary story between Brett and Michelle is just as good, with Mark being a guy who's not sure if he wants to continue being a husband. He appreciates being a father, but he wants to enjoy life and those that are parts of it. Michelle may not be part of that plan. Lynskey's character evolution even in eight half-hour episodes is fast but handled very well, and she feels lost but also then finds a cause in setting up a charter school with a single father named David (John Ortiz, The Drop). Ortiz plays his role as potential conflicting character to a perfect note at this point, and I'm looking forward to see how his role becomes more prominent in the coming season.
With season two of Togetherness about to air, seeing Jay and Mark Duplass with the title of ‘show runners' to add to an already crowded CV makes for an interesting proposition, but the cast is manageable enough and capable enough that they appear to be making it work well. HBO is putting out a good amount of quality comedic shows and this comedy/drama should not be overlooked.The Blu-rays:
HBO gives Togetherness a 1.78:1 widescreen presentation, with eight episode split equally over two discs, and each episode using the AVC codec for Blu-ray. There is not a big leap from watching the episodes on broadcast to how they look on Blu-ray, which isn't a bad thing as colors are natural as are moments in darkness or in light when the show moves to the beach, be it episode two or episode eight. It looks as good as it did when it first aired, which is fine because it looked good when it first aired.The Sound:
DTS HD-MA 5.1 lossless surround on each episode, a pleasant surprise with a lot of music going on throughout the show, be it Fleetwood Mac or the air drumming sequence inside the electric car when "Tom Sawyer" comes on the stereo. Dialogue is consistent, and moments of less obvious dynamic range exhibit it. The environmental sounds lack a bit of activity as directional effects but it's a formidable soundtrack.Extras:
There are a series of looks of each episode (8, 22:38) where the brothers Duplass discuss their inspirations for a scene or two, character motivations, scene intent, tone and other things. Deleted scenes (7, 7:03) have a laugh or two, and "Amanda and Steve" (5:02) on Disc Two includes some ad libbing during press interviews that is cute. And a digital copy which is pretty much standard issue at this point.Final Thoughts:
Togetherness is less a description on family life that the Duplass brothers try to explain and one more that describes the quartet of actors and their characters' respective state of mind nicely. It provides a change of pace for more recognizable faces (Mark and Amanda Peet) and provides a welcomed broader audience to lesser known yet equally capable ones (Lynskey and Zissis). Technically, the show looks fine, thought could have used a few more extras. But it's a funny and at times touching show that everyone should check out.