Midlife crises have recently taken television by storm in a more mature version of the coming-of-age tale. “Togetherness,” a sometimes-overlooked and provocative HBO drama created by independent filmmakers and brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, follows a quartet of late thirty/early forty-somethings as they struggle through their midlife crises. On Feb. 2, HBO held a special preview screening for season two of “Togetherness,” followed by a Q&A with the Duplass brothers at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The Duplass brothers’ mordant characters challenge adults to reconcile their dreams with personal realities. Producer Mark Duplass stars as the environmentally conscious and straight-laced Brent who is married to Michelle (Melanie Lynsky), a stay-at-home mom struggling to make adult friends and forge a meaningful emotional connection. Michelle’s unemployed and impulsive older sister, Tina (Amanda Peet), is an underachiever trying to find her identity. Steve Zissis plays Alex, the fourth central figure — an unsuccessful and recently evicted actor.
The main characters of the show act not like the middle-aged people they are, but like flighty and shallow young adults devoid of personal depth and stuck in banality. Throughout the first season, the characters don’t demonstrate a shred of dignity or self-importance. They find themselves in endearingly awkward situations that compel audiences to feel empathy. The Duplass brothers use their background in filmmaking to build strong character arcs, which makes up for the somewhat overdone character tropes.
The first two episodes of season two are compelling as Tina contends with her personal realities. Although Tina is not the most intellectual, Peet portrays Tina with amazing emotional depth and complexity. This is not to ignore Lynsky’s expert portrayal of the calmer sister who is troubled by her own infidelity. The male characters also have their share of challenges. Brent shifts from the most stable figure to one of vulnerability as he loses his job and faces marital dilemas, while Alex contends with newly found fams as a successful leading actor. Alex’s acting career suddenly goes from a failure to fame, straining his relationship with Tina.
In the Q&A after the preview, the Duplass brothers divulged that the television set has an atmosphere of “freeform and imprecision” which explains how these characters are rendered so naturally. There is a careful balance between drama and comedy that often makes the audience chuckle with furrowed brows.
The season two premiere of “Togetherness” showed great potential, and it will be exciting to see how the rest of the season will take the characters.
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