Sometimes, you just want to shove popcorn in your face and cheesy-grin or weepy-reach for tissues while watching easily digestible Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise type vehicles. But if you're looking to identify with characters beyond a superficial "that's what I wish would happen in my life" and instead gulp a dose of reality, mumblecore pioneers Mark and Jay Duplass have been executing insightful, surprising, funny, depressing and authentic films since South by Southwest audiences first fell in love with The Puffy Chair 10 years ago. Now the Duplass brothers are on HBO with their first television series, Togetherness (streaming on hbogo.com, and recently renewed for a second season). The masters of understatement are joined in penning the series by writer and co-star Steve Zissis, who plays the show's second leading man, Alex, sympathetically and hilariously across from Mark's twitchy, introverted antihero, Brett.
What's appealing about mumblecore is the ability to expect the unexpected. Actors frequently go off-script to genuinely convey emotion or the eerie lack thereof. Brett and his wife, Michelle (perfectly portrayed as a fraught, identity-seeking housewife by Melanie Lynskey), try to figure out how to keep their marriage together despite organically shifting interests; earnest, failed attempts to inject whimsy into their relationship; and agonizing, soul-crushing therapy sessions. Meanwhile, Alex and Tina, Michelle's sister – gloriously played by Amanda Peet, whose biting, loose-cannon character snaps out some of the show's most memorable lines – struggle to define their inherent attraction without disrupting the already chaotic social balance. Nobody on this show has his shit together, and the uncertainty of anyone meeting a happy ending gives this unique show a special edge due to deftly composed and strikingly muted scenes.