A couple of weeks ago HBO cancelled the original series Togetherness in the middle of airing its second season, and the entire program ended without ceremony and in the midst of its depicted drama. Written and created by show-runners Mark and Jay Duplass, Togetherness was a bold experiment in dramatic screenwriting for television that upheld much of the subtle understatement characteristic of the two directors larger cinematic oeuvre. Having partially contributed to what is now well known as the Mumblecore sub-genre of independent films from the 2000s, the Duplass Brothers are certainly not hurting for acclaim and attention. With Jay currently starring in writer-director Jill Soloway’s groundbreaking Amazon Original Series Transparent, and Mark well known for his stint on the popular FX sports comedy The League, the two filmmakers have made inroads into the film industry as key movers and shakers. Case in point, Mark and Jay Duplass recently signed an exclusive deal with Netflix to produce a grand total of four original films for the popular streaming service.
Yet the abrupt cancellation of a show as original and emotionally compelling as Togetherness is still cause for some sadness regarding the state of contemporary television and mainstream viewing habits. True, the Pierson clan is highly homogenous, white, well to do, and ubiquitously overrepresented in contemporary dramatized fiction. But the way in which the Duplass Brothers portray their dysfunctional nuclear unit is singularly revelatory. In the semi-autobiographical role of struggling actor and family friend Alex Pappas, Steve Zissis portrays his own professional turmoil with great aplomb. Rather than painting Zissis as an overweight, man-child clown, in much the same way that Zach Galifanakis has been miscast for years, the Duplass Brothers grant their old high school friend the limelight. In short, Togetherness is a show that brings all of the misfits of real life together in a way that seeks to grant each and every one of them their own problems, while granting them the independence to choose the way in which they simultaneously cope and rebel.
Towing the line with Zissis, Amanda Peet has never been better than she is in the role of the wayward sister Tina Morris, whose constant need for attention from her older sister Michelle Michelle Pierson (Melanie Lynskey) is both grating and endearing. As the show’s stand-in odd couple, Zissis and Peet have managed to depict an unrequited love affair full of all of the toxicity and misplaced affection specific to such a highly tumultuous state of being. Over the course of the show’s two brief seasons, Zissis and Peet have crafted what is perhaps one of the most realistic portrayals of love in real life. And in the Duplass Brothers hands, the love shared between Alex and Tina is never entirely holistic. The two characters are so diametrically opposed to one another as people that no matter how much they might wish to be together, their inherent incompatibility always results in hurt feelings on both sides.
On the other side of the equation, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and his wife Michelle offer one of the most realistic depictions of marital infidelity in the twenty-first century on film. Despite loving one another deeply, and wanting nothing other than the very best for each other, both of them are compelled by the inevitable pangs and attractions of baser pleasures and animal lust. Yet the affairs that the two engage in are with people that each of them might have been happy with had the situation or timing been different. As a portraiture of the contemporary American couple, Duplass and Lynskey are woefully misaligned, resulting in an intense performance of matrimonial bliss in decline that hits a little more than close to home, as the debris and shrapnel from their disintegrating romance threatens to strike the viewer by proxy of their own engagement as an invested voyeur.
But what is said voyeur to do now that HBO has cancelled the forever young original series in a perpetual state of medias res? The Duplass Brothers are likely to move forward onto new projects with the same sense of delicate timing and comedy that has been on display throughout the course of their entire career. Yet the question of what is to become of their exceptionally created Pierson clan remains forever unanswered. Save for a decision to produce a feature length film as a part of their current deal with Netflix to conclude the program more cohesively, it would appear that Togetherness will stand as another casualty of broadcast television, however outdated and ludicrous such a predicament may be.
Like Joss Whedon’s infamously ill-fated cult-favorite science-fiction serial Firefly, Togetherness now faces the ether of historical inactivity. Its depicted drama and significant tension built between its established characters over the course of a scant sixteen episodes has been lost to narrative irresolution. Another outcome for the program’s featured romance between Zissis and Peet is never to be, while Brett and Michelle remain in a loveless marriage spiraling into oblivion. In short, Togetherness was taken off the air too soon, a fate that befalls many an intriguing original program, and one that never ceases to lose its particular sting to those who remained engaged despite the composite reception intimated by viewer ratings.
On that note, and with a heavy heart, it is time to bid farewell to Togetherness, but not in a state of total and unmitigated abjection. Viewers who have been following the trials of travails of Alex, Tina, Brett, and Michelle on HBO over the course of the past two years will always have the show in the form of its first two seasons. Togetherness will remain where viewers left it in the final episode of season two, wherein a broken theatrical adaptation of author Frank Herbert’s Dune is recast from the rubble, thus imbuing hope back into a fallen dramatic endeavor. Togetherness will be missed by those who watched, so here’s to bigger and better things in the near future from its creators.
Featured Image: HBO