Online and in real life, well-meaning people speak glowingly about leaving a certain tumultuous decade behind. The relief to be rid of twentysomething fears and move on anew is understandable: It is hard to spend 10 years (more or less) worried that you will never have a successful relationship, find a fulfilling job, or stick to a nightly flossing habit.
But despite the fact that so many of my thirtysomething friends are insistent that theirs is the decade in which the bullshit finally starts to fall away, I'm not sure I totally believe them. While I can buy into the idea that getting older and gaining new context is the key to understanding which of life's problems are big versus small, I also tend to think that 30s Zen is a little overhyped.
Subsequently, that's why I love Togetherness, the HBO dramedy starring Melanie Lynskey, Mark Duplass, Steve Zissis, and Amanda Peet, which makes its second season debut on Sunday, February 21. The series chronicles the challenges of relationships, mixed signals, parenthood, professional failures, and the ennui of getting what you thought you wanted and finding out it's not quite right. I think that it also obliterates the myth that successful thirtysomethings are actually less fucked up versions of the people they were in their 20s — which helps to relieve some of the pressure in my own life to hurry up and become a full-fledged, high-functioning adult.
For the most part, these two seem sincerely satisfied with the choices they've made — at least in the beginning.
For the most part, these two seem sincerely satisfied with the choices they've made — at least in the beginning. While the couple is doing a laudable job of performing the tasks of adulthood — Brett works as a sound composer on a television series and Michelle manages the ongoing business of running their lives while also trying to get a charter school going in the neighborhood — their nearest and dearest haven't done the same.
Tina (Peet) is Michelle's older sister, who decides to relocate to Los Angeles and restart her life. She is, at times, unbearably selfish, mean, and scheming. But she's also deeply insecure about what she's accomplished so far and relies on her looks to help her land the right kind of relationship and find validation. Zissis plays Alex Papas, Brett's lifelong best friend — a struggling actor who, up until this point, hasn't built up the confidence to give anything his all. He's a little fat and highly co-dependent throughout season 1, during which he mostly lives on Brett's couch. Tina has also taken up residence in the same living room, sleeping across from Alex on her own twin-sized sectional. They are the very definition of arrested development.
It is a tragic and also laugh-out-loud look at what it means to inhabit the realm of adulthood when you've sort of got things locked down (but still, not quite).
But Togetherness becomes truly seductive when it begins exploring the hairline fractures at the foundation of all these relationships. It peers into the places where we people fail one another or withhold forgiveness. It prods the fissures that appear when we hurt those we love reflexively and never atone for it. What all this probing imparts to the viewer — tragically, sometimes — is that these aren't the sorts of cracks that have to become bigger. We can keep the break from spreading. But first, we have to acknowledge what has broken — and that is oftentimes the hardest part.
Throughout it all, Togetherness is stays true to its name, delving into what brings us closer and cuts us off from the people we want to be closest to. It is a tragic and also laugh-out-loud look at what it means to inhabit the realm of adulthood when you've sort of got things locked down (but still, not quite). It is a portrait of a thirtysomething going on fortysomething — who was once a twentysomething — that still feels like a total fuck up.
It's also a reminder that getting older doesn't necessarily translate to being wiser — and that no matter how old you are, we're all just making it up as we go.