'Togetherness': Love Will Tear Us Apart

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

There’s one significant shift in emphasis at the start of the second season of Togetherness, and I was afraid that it was going to mar the show that I’d enjoyed so much last year. Remember what a entertainingly sodden lump the flailing actor Alex (Steve Zissis) was, and how his unrequited love for Amanda Peet’s Tina was tying him in emotional knots?

Well, that’s changed in season two. He’s landed a TV role, he’s thinned down (thanks to Tina’s urging and advice, you’ll recall), and feels much better about himself. Maybe a bit too much better, in fact: There’s an aura of self-regard to Alex now that is instantly noticed by his best pal, Mark Duplass’s Brett, who is ambivalent about calling him on it and thus proves what an understanding friend he is.

Brett has his own problems, and they’re not of Alex’s too-much-good-stuff variety. He continues to feel disconnected from wife Michelle (Melanie Lynskey). We and Michelle know that he has good reason to: She’s strongly attracted to co-worker John Ortiz’s David, which places the marriage in high-alert jeopardy. Some of the premiere’s best moments occur when Brett tries hard to win back an affection from Michelle that he doesn’t even know is severely depleted — there’s a poignance to the tart sweetness of those scenes.

Things have moved on for Tina as well, now firmly attached to Peter Gallagher’s George and, on the surface at least, living the happy life of someone who’d been scraping by and now can enjoy the luxury of a wealthy partner. But — in this show, there’s always a “but” — Tina can’t help but become a bit jealous, and possessive, when she witnesses Alex’s newfound success and newfound girlfriend, played by Ginger Gonzaga and quickly revealed as more than just a trophy-prize for Alex’s ego.

Togetherness, co-created by Zissis and brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, for all the unhappiness its characters regularly experience, is full of happy surprises, none better than the spontaneous trip Brett and Alex take to their hometown. They leave Los Angeles for Detroit on a whim, to unearth a time capsule they buried when they were young boys. The cast continues to be superb — the performances of Lynskey and Peet are occasionally amazing, overflowing with pathos and intelligence and carefully modulated emotion. Even when they’re apart, the people in Togetherness are bonded in the world the show has created for them.

Togetherness airs Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.