Grown-Up Growing Pains: Why We Needed Togetherness

TV Features Togetherness
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Grown-Up Growing Pains: Why We Needed <i>Togetherness</i>

As if celebrating the last year in my twenties wasn’t hard enough, I also have to come to terms with the fact that one of the best shows portraying the highs and lows of the midlife’s crisis I myself am now eagerly awaiting was canceled. I still have a lot to learn from Togetherness and the Duplass brothers’ most intimate rendering of what it means to be growing as a person and as a couple. For the majority of the first season, Brett felt like a ghost in chains. He was so wrapped up in his own idea of perfectionism, and unable to move beyond his every calculated step, he failed to find spontaneity in his own life and his relationship with Michelle. And now that he has finally freed himself of his own shackles, it seems as though it’s too late. As much as Brett and Michelle are together on paper and in every-day life, it has been a while since they both stood on the same ground. Herein lies the beauty of this show: Togetherness is not actually about togetherness in the sense of family, friends and romantic partners; it is much more about finding togetherness amongst your own personal demons and voices of reason—which must be accomplished in some way, before you can even contemplate finding togetherness with others. Season Two, so far, has made that painfully (and yet, hilariously) clear. This understanding grew in me with every episode and—like many others, I’m sure—I was very much looking forward to developing this perception further. But this is not going to be the case. Instead, the whole thing ended similarly to the final scene in the “Everybody Is Grownups” episode. So, thanks for that, HBO.

Watching Brett drive up to Sacramento to surprise Michelle in the first season’s finale was extremely difficult. He’d finally managed to rid himself from the constant pressure reigning inside his head and took to the highway with an open mind and an open heart. But, at this stage, Michelle had been cooped up in her mental and sexual prison for so long, she could not resist the thought of David holding the key that might have released her from her cell. In “Hotels,” the second season opener, we quickly come to realize that her night with David was nothing but a step towards an epiphany: she’d much rather go back to the intimacy behind the pillow-reaching, rather than throw it all away for guilty sex with a partner she has no history with. And this is, in fact, the operative word when it comes to Togetherness; history is what binds the characters and—equally—pulls them apart. This point is illustrated perfectly in “Hotels.” There’s still an unspoken awkwardness between Michelle and Brett but, at the same time, their joint past has brought them into a comfortable, if not entirely truthful, present phase. On the other end of things we have Alex and Tina, whose history stands between them like a giant red traffic light, refusing to change for the possibility of a brightly colored future.

Alex and Tina never seemed to catch the same wave, which is frustrating because, as disastrous as they often are together, it somehow feels right. The constant ebbs and tides experienced by Brett, Michelle, Tina and Alex, are so overwhelmingly realistic, I can actually understand why some people just cannot handle the intensity that is Togetherness. Yes, the Duplass brothers find an exquisite balance between drama and humor, but what you are left with are still a bunch of unshakable realizations that will creep into your very own life and relationship. If you’re not one for deep pondering and self-actualization, this show may, miraculously, inspire you to curl up in a ball and cry. Mark and Jay Duplass are in your face, but lovingly so. They are here to motivate you to ask the bigger questions in life: Who am I and what do I want from life? And how does that fit in with my marriage/relationships?

We all grow and evolve at a different pace—a daunting experience when you are in any relationship, seeing as it is not always possible to be on the same level. After a certain period of time, one person is bound to be two steps ahead, while the other is lagging behind; it can be exhausting if not unendurable trying to meet half way. Tina’s storyline is a manifestation of this very fact. Tina spent the first season breathlessly running from every possible aspect of commitment and threw herself into the party girl existence, too petrified to look deep within and discover her own person, her own path in life. She is a bona fide settler, always looking for love and security where, really, there is none. Her instant relationship with Larry seems to be based on status and facility, rather than passion and comfort—much like many other areas in her life. But in taking on the role of the caretaker for Michelle and the kids following Brett’s regression to bachelorhood, Tina has finally found her purpose in life. She has stopped running, and is now steering straight towards fulfilling a desire she never knew she had: to become a mother; to do something she’s actually good at. Watching her story unfold, seeing her grow from train-wreck to super-mom has been extremely moving. Never before have we seen her so content and utterly in love with life. She is fighting for everything she was so strongly fighting against in the last season, including Alex. But it’s also important to note that her attempts at rekindling the friendship are pretty damn ugly. This, ironically enough, makes her character infuriatingly alluring—her confusion and anger at the beginning of the season radiates from the screen, as does her maternal warmth in later episodes.

Every episode of this season has been devastatingly heart-warming so far, but none has quite compared to “Advanced Pretend.” There’s a massive rip in the newly established sense of togetherness between Michelle and Brett, which ultimately drives Alex and Brett closer than they have been in a long time. They have always acted as great pillars of support to one another, yet they often tended to buckle under the ambiguity of the distance between them whenever Alex pursued a path that didn’t follow in line with Brett’s. But with Brett threatening to descend into a dark, dark place, Alex takes the reigns and sweeps him off into a world of advanced pretend. As Alex wheeled a drunken and emotionally numb Brett through the airport terminals, I found myself choking up. The love these two have for one another beats any other TV bromance. For one night they revisit their adolescence in their hometown of Detroit, reconnecting with the life they left behind and disconnecting with the people they have become. Following episodes reveal that, although Alex is in a new stage in life and his career, he is willing to jeopardize it all by holding Brett’s hand as he walks through his own personal limbo. Though it is appreciated on some level, Brett’s ego stops him from fully discerning how much he is asking Alex to give up. In other words, Brett almost manages to impede on Alex’s growth in a stunningly bratty manner; fortunately, Alex has evolved from his unassertive former self.

For all of these reasons and more, the news of HBO’s split with Togetherness remains baffling to me, especially after everything the show offered up this season: stellar performances by Amanda Peet, Mark Duplass, Melanie Lysnkey and Steve Zissis, a profound storyline and many a life question to ponder. As I searched for an answer as to why, oh why, this show wasn’t attracting the amount of viewers necessary to make the series worthwhile to HBO, I was pointed to Mark Rozeman’s article on Manhattan and the Problem of Peak TV. I think I’ve found my answer. HBO is currently home to some of the most popular shows on TV series—all of which have a strong focus on relationships and personal journeys in one way or another. Though a series like Girls may examine similar processes of introspection, it doesn’t offer the same fervor we have all come to love from Togetherness. But as Rozeman’s article already states, FX President John Landgraf was clearly right when he said, “There’s too much competition, so much so that I think the good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones.”

This may be difficult for us hard-core, TV aficionados to grasp, seeing as we religiously check airing schedules and devour every single article suggesting the next big show in the making. So, perhaps, it’s easier for us to think of Togetherness as simply having outgrown HBO. much in the same way that our favorite characters have outgrown one another. Instead of letting go, it’s easier to simply hope that Tina, Alex and co. will sprout new bonds with Netflix. Or Hulu. Or Amazon. Because I’ve decided that leaving this show in arrested development is just not an option.

Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.