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HBO's 'Togetherness' Gradually Loses Its Way (but There's Always Amanda Peet)
January 10, 2015  | By Ed Bark

For quite a while, HBO’s Togetherness looks as though it could be exceptional.

But halfway through, in an episode subtitled “Kick the Can,” it begins to falter and lose its way. And by the Season One-ending eighth half-hour episode, Togetherness is pretty much neck-deep in its own muck with a cliffhanger that itself falls off a cliff.

The series is co-created by Jay and Mark Duplass, who have tried to model themselves after the Coen brothers. Their collaborations include The Puffy Chair, Baghead and Cyrus. Mark also co-stars in FX’s The League and is very much a key player in Togetherness as a married but unsettled Hollywood soundman named Brett Pierson.

To its credit, HBO sent all eight episodes when it might well have garnered stronger reviews by making just the first four available for review. I kept watching because so much of Togetherness hung together with a very deft blend of humor and angst. But then the angst took over, the loopiness kicked in too hard and schmaltz came charging up through the backstretch.

OK, another big reason I kept watching is Amanda Peet (left, with Steve Zissis), who remains one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated and, dare it be said, luscious actresses. It’s nigh impossible to believe that anyone in his right mind would dump her, either in real-life or as a television or film character.

Peet, who turns 43 on the day of the Togetherness premiere, has still got it in every way imaginable. She’s a terrific actress, comedic or otherwise. And she continues to look sensational, as viewers can see to fuller effect in Episodes 2 and 6. Let’s just leave it at that.

Peet plays Tina Morris, who in Episode 1 gets the heave-ho -- can you believe it? -- from a boyfriend played by Ken Marino (currently co-starring in NBC’s freshman sitcom Marry Me). He says she’s “batshit crazy.” Hey, we all have our faults.

As a Los Angeles party planner specializing in bouncy houses, Tina continues to struggle financially and emotionally. This time she’s frazzled enough to move in with her sister, Michelle Pierson (Melanie Lynskey), who’s married with two children to Brett.
Brett’s best friend, Alex Pappas (Steve Zissis), is likewise in dire straits as an actor largely without portfolio. He’s broke, newly homeless and reluctantly agreeable to crashing on the Piersons’ couch for a while rather than acting on his impulse to move back to Detroit.

Alex and Tina also know each other well, and their byplay is a highlight of early episodes. He agrees to help out with her business while she insists on training him after he laments, being “too fat for leading man roles and too skinny to be the chubby, funny best friend.” Alex also has lousy hair, with a tuft of it sprouting on its lonesome at the top of his forehead. He calls it his “Gilligan’s Island” while she thinks he should lose it.

Back at the homestead, Brett and Michelle’s sex life has become both predictable and scant. Episode 2, which hits on all cylinders, has a hilarious sequence in which she’s determined to change it up while he struggles to go with it. FX’s Married, which debuted last July, has a fairly similar overall premise. But it comes up well short of Togetherness, even when the latter series starts to disappoint.

Two familiar faces later join in. Peter Gallagher (The O.C.) plays a rich Hollywood producer named Larry. And Mary Steenburgen (right, with Mark Duplass) makes her first appearance in Episode 6 as a cosmic soother named Linda, who tells Brett during a chance meeting in the woods that he’s like “a ghost in chains.” This is when your eyes may start to roll with a vengeance after a labored Episode 5 ends up pitting Brett, Michelle, Alex, Tina and their “oldster” friends in a game of Kick the Can with a group meant to epitomize callow youth. The game is completely stupid and this episode isn’t far behind.

Michelle also is growingly attracted to a community organizer with a vision of starting up a new charter school. His name is David (John Ortiz) and he seems to have descended from heaven.

Togetherness ratchets down the humor and ratchets up the angry confrontations in its later episodes. Life’s not a bowl of cherries and certainly not a box of chocolates. But these tone changes don’t work for the overall betterment of Togetherness, which had me fully engaged through Episode 4 before losing some of its bearings in the later going.

Even so, there’s still Amanda Peet. Her occasional horselaugh is that of a thoroughbred. Her looks, whether expressive or otherwise, always seem to be perfect for the occasion. Togetherness gets harder to watch but she does not. So if there’s a second season -- and the very open-ended closer almost demands one -- then I’ll still be watching in hopes that the overall composition improves while Peet keeps doing those things she does.


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