Togetherness: Family Day Review

The Pierson family gets a little bigger in this promising new look at extended family from the Duplass Brothers

“We re-group and we triumph.”

There have been an influx of both shows and movies lately that position family as the “big drama” that’s to be dealt with. There is no shortage for these sort of projects as actors as interested in those juicy, emotional roles, and as a result you have things like large-scale productions a la This is Where I Leave You or more intimate, smaller looks at family that the Duplass Brothers have become known for, such as Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Cyrus, Happy Christmas, and many more. So it’s not surprising to see Mark and Jay and Duplass, two very efficient filmmakers with a lot to say on the topic heading to television on the matter.

Before you go any further, HBO released the first episode on YouTube. Watch it here. 

Togetherness feels very familiar when it begins. We see the Pierson family going through the usual motions as Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey) misread one another’s signals and are out of sync with one another. To put even more pressure on things, Brett’s friend Alex (Steve Zissis) gets evicted and needs to move in with them right away, with similar misfortune befalling Michelle’s sister, Tina (Amanda Peet), which is simple enough of a premise as this family is thrust upon each other.  

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As the pilot eases you into this world, it continues to take a lot of the usual swings, like Michelle trying to sneak out masturbation sessions in bed without her husband noticing in a scene that just as easily could have been out of This is Forty. These sort of over-the-hill people who complain about how much gluten is in their taco. Even the focal piece of this episode, going to the beach with your family, is something that was skewed in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s first season over ten years ago. While all of this is enjoyable enough, you’re left wondering what the Duplass’ are trying to say with all of this. And while it currently might not seem like much, the Duplass brothers are confident, capable storytellers that in the coming weeks are surely only going to get us further invested in this family as we learn how unique they are, but as it stands they seem fairly quirky and flawed in the typical ways.

If any sort of unique voice or commentary is breaking through here it’s the Duplass brothers’ ability to build warmth and chemistry amongst their cast, and already the shorthand and bond between this extended family is deeply felt. Moments like Tina incredulously reeling back as she hears about her sister’s masturbation habits, or Alex giving his unfiltered opinion on Tina’s texts already have such a close-knit honesty to them, and the moment he tries to cover for her to save face during an embarrassing moment in a restaurant is touching.

The show is also smart to mix up these characters pairings and show you a lot of different examples of how this show is going to work every week. You can’t help but smile as you just watch these fractured people act honest and raw with one another (“Every motherfucker in this van is going to chug Strawberry Hill before we go anywhere.”) Togetherness has the off kilter weirdness of a husband walking in on his wife masturbating with clothespins on her nipples, but also the deep emotional well felt between all of these people. We see everyone have little mini-breakdowns that peel back their layers and show us what they’re going through, and if nothing else, you at least care about all of these people by the end of it, with everyone here, particularly Peet, doing a wonderful job.

Interestingly enough, there’s very little focus done on the family’s children, whether they’ll end up taking up more screen time later, but as it stands the show finds a comfortable rhythm just focusing on the adults of the family, which yes, you could argue in some cases are also the children…

Beyond getting to know the Piersons, the pilot does examine the theme of people and forces telling us what to do in our lives, and we see it happening repeatedly here, whether it’s our wives, friends, corporations and society…Tina struggles with accepting that her random flings aren’t relationships (featuring a very welcome cameo from Ken Marino) or that wholesaling bounce houses might not be the most viable career choice. Offered up is the philosophy of not being beaten by these forces and banding together, using what’s around you, and rebuilding. The bullies from our past and the casting agents of our present might dictate that we’re failures, but if we’re failures with others, then those harpoons that are getting launched at us all the while become a little more tolerable. That a day at your beach with your family can even be bearable if your fuck-up friend is there with you.

As most of this connects and moves by harmlessly, certain scenes, like the repressed cast launching reams of toilet paper at someone’s house in slow motion to easy rock could probably be done without and feel more than a little overdone. As do certain emotional breakthroughs like where Brett asks his wife why they aren’t having sex anymore. It feels like the Duplass brothers should know better, especially since these moments feel even broader when they’re happening in a pilot, but they manage to coast by them due to the charm of their characters. You perhaps could argue that the Duplass brother are invoking these stereotypical, manufactured moments as another piece of commentary on the forces that are trying to tell us what to do in our lives. These are the moments that a coming-of-age family dramedy should have; only the characters having them are subversions to the norm. Regardless of any heavyhandedness occurring through the pilot, the episode ends on two wounded family members singing and laughing over Oreos, which is as pretty unconventional and genuinely intimate as you can get.

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Let’s see what else this family has in store for us.

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3.5 out of 5