The beach day sequence itself is a gem, familiar but also achingly real. (Not a word is spoken, either, with a summery rock song creating a mood.) Many of the clips we see of their trip to the shore focus on the more uncomfortable parts of going to the beach: lugging the beach chairs from the car, losing your balance when a big wave comes, not getting a cellular signal. The montage, which lasts about a minute, focuses on both the frustration and the relaxation, showing off more of the show’s creators’ acute observations about everyday events.
As per the best work from the indie auteurs, Togetherness thrives when it embraces the little, tender, low-key moments that feel authentic. These happen when ordinary scenes veer off-course. A regular night out goes awry when Tina sees Craig walking into the same restaurant where the four main characters dine. Instead of a rage-fueled confrontation ruining the night, Alex saves Tina from humiliation by grabbing her hand, racing down the street and plotting revenge on the beau at a convenience store (as well as picking up strawberry-flavored liquor).
At moments, both Alex and Tina come off as shrill and a little too pigeonholed into the stereotype of miserable teenagers stuck in adult bodies. The first conversation between Brett and Alex is in a moving truck, as the struggling actor laments how his heavy physique and balding head bring him shame at auditions. (The scene ends with him moving over into the driver’s seat, suggesting how much he yearns to be in control of the direction his life goes.) Tina’s early impressions, recalling the time she got drunk at the Pierson wedding and then yelping in pain when she receives a text from Craig, hints at how she is one of those women who peaked in high school.
By the episode’s end, though, the characters have receded a bit from conventions. A flummoxed Peet does a great job transitioning from her disbelief at Craig’s text to explaining her agony of being alone to Michelle. That two-person fight between the sisters on Michelle’s porch lets the sisters air out their issues. “You know what it’s like not to have found anyone at my age?” Tina whimpers. With room to breathe thanks to HBO’s longer episode running times, the characters can explain their grievances and come to an understanding without it feeling rushed. The scene solidifies the chemistry between Lynskey (coming off a similar turn in Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas) and Peet. We see the years of fraternal difficulty between them, but also the support and admiration the sisters have for each other.
Even though we have only spent 28 minutes with this circle of friends, the Piersons’ sexual famine is simply not holding as much interest as Tina and Alex’s more immediate dilemmas. The script also puts a lot of emphasis on Brett’s healthy eating, making the quirk his only intriguing quality. “I don’t want to hear about a food documentary,” Alex cautions, as he chomps down on donuts in Brett’s U-Haul. It all feels a bit, well, thin.
With a rather conventional set-up, Togetherness’ pilot could be its weakest episode. Regardless, with strong acting, realistic dialogue and a rhythm that feels both breezy and authentic, this should be a worthwhile show to stick around for. HBO’s Sunday block is already languid and low-key, and few auteurs nail the deft mix of light comedy and observational drama as much as the masters of mumblecore.