There are few words that are less arousing than “take the baby monitor with you”. It’s a truth that Michelle (Melanie Lynskey) and Brett (Mark Duplass) are trying to come to terms with, as their marriage hits a mid-life crisis and they hit the big four-zero barrier.
Marital problems? People finding themselves? Togetherness may not sound like the most gripping or uplifting programme, but that’s precisely why it is. Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass – who created the show with co-star Steve Zissis – are known for their mumblecore work on the big screen and this feels like an easy step for them, taking their knack for natural, low-key people in slow-moving films and slowing things down even further for a week-by-week exploration of their characters.
Duplass himself, who has always impressed in everything from My Sister’s Sister to Safety Not Guaranteed, takes his chameleonic ability to play the everyman and gives it an added dose of frustration, as Brett struggles to work out why his wife won’t have sex with him anymore. Lynskey, meanwhile, is equally genuine as the similarly frustrated spouse, balancing Brett and her cooling relationship with everything else on her plate.
It’s a treat to watch the two interact, but they soon find their space encroached upon by another two people. There’s out-of-work actor (Steve Zissis), who needs a place to crash while he’s got no cash. So Brett invites him to stay on their couch. And there’s Michelle’s sister, Tina (a scene-stealing Amanda Peet), who is convinced she’s in a relationship with a guy who’s clearly not interested, which leaves her questioning everything in life, including where to live. So Michelle invites her to stay too.
The fact that each have their own motivations for introducing a house guest into their routine gives this double-double-act a nice note of drama to go with the comedy – and fittingly, given the show’s title, the group’s chemistry (pulling together, falling apart) does generate some great laughs. These aren’t blockbuster, warn-your-neighbours sort of laughs, but snorts of endearment and giggles of recognition. Because they may be white and they may be in Los Angeles, but the Duplass’ quartet are simply trying to get through the muddle of existence and understand what’s going on.
Does much happen? Not really. Are there surprise twists? Hardly. But that’s precisely why this is so enjoyable. There simply isn’t room on terrestrial TV for shows that sit back and let characters breathe. but VOD services such as Sky’s NOW TV (with its HBO offerings) and Amazon (with its Golden Globe-winning Transparent) allow this kind of programme to unfold at its own pace. What’s particularly great about Togetherness is that it doesn’t set itself up as a journey in which lessons and revelations occur every week. The questions and scenarios may be familiar, but people aren’t guaranteed to find themselves any time soon. And the answer, more often than not, is an honest “I don’t know”.
Togetherness is on every Monday on Sky Atlantic and is available to catch up on Sky On Demand.
Don’t have Sky? You can watch Togetherness online in the UK on NOW TV. Sky’s VOD service costs £6.99 a month and gives you live streaming access to Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, FOX and others, as well as the ability to catch up on-demand. TV shows include things such as The Walking Dead (all seasons), Girls Season 4, Arrow and The Flash.