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'Togetherness' review: Needs time to get in synch

Amanda Peet and Steve Zissis in HBO's new

Amanda Peet and Steve Zissis in HBO's new comedy "Togetherness." Photo Credit: TNS / Melissa Moseley

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle Pierson (Melanie Lynskey) appear to be the happily married parents of a new baby, until Brett's old friend, Alex (Steve Zissis) moves in. He needs a place to live, and that couch in the living room will do just fine. Michelle's sister Tina (Amanda Peet) also happens to be visiting LA from her home in Houston. Luckless-in-love Tina decides the husband-hunting process may be more productive in California. So she moves in, too. The house, by the way, is pretty small. . . . Suddenly that's a lot of togetherness, even among friends and family.

MY SAY The opening scene of "Togetherness" actually mirrors the opening scene from the first episode of Duplass' other longtime comedy, FX's "The League." (Hint: The protagonists are in bed.) But all comparisons begin and end there: "The League's" Pete Eckhart is as far from Brett Pierson as two people played by the same actor possibly could be: One (Pete) is profoundly unrepressed, while the other (Brett) is the very personification of repression, or at least anal retentiveness.

He's a complicated character, who reveals himself to viewers, and to himself, only piecemeal. Likewise, this is a series that takes time and probably patience too. "Togetherness" is indeed one of those "observational" shows that purport to draw the comedy from the shallow depths of shallow lives, except that these lives aren't exactly shallow, nor are they always comical.

It's actually an initial challenge with this newcomer -- an inconsistency of tone, style, even genre (comedy or drama?) that doesn't quite work, at least in the opener. In fact, it's almost a shrug of an opener, a bit diffident, a bit unfocused (not unlike Brett, in his less lucid moments).

But "Togetherness" does gets better, and funnier. Just don't be surprised if you wince as you laugh.

GRADE B

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