“Togetherness” Teaches This 21-Year-Old About Adulthood

Being a grown-up is hard. There’s work to do, bills to pay, goals to achieve, dreams to reach, and less of a safety net to catch you, if there’s even a net at all.

But in the grand scheme of things (I say this as a wise, hardened, newly minted, 21-year-old adult), life doesn’t seem that much more strenuous in the “real world” than it has been all along. The teen years have their own set of problems, from earth-shattering break ups to identity crises to hormones to parents. The early 20s—so far and according to the factually sound television show, “Girls”—have been a whirlwind of self-involvement, path finding, and scarier, more all-encompassing identity crises. It seems no matter where you are in life, obstacles always seem insurmountable until they don’t.

In the midst of those quandaries, or at least in the midst of mine, there are television shows emitting dull glows from screens like beacons lighting the way. As a kid I watched entertainment media like manuals, absorbing the rules of life as told through high school dramedies, Disney movies, faux reality television and (unfortunately) romantic comedies. This is how your first date should look—the TV showed me—how your friendships will feel, what will be important to you, and what your next step will be.

Now, as a 20-something ensconced in the 20-something tropes put forth by shows like “Girls,” and even “Broad City” (which I can now watch objectively since I’m living my best life), I’m already wondering what my next stage will look like and hoping for a sneak peek. Admittedly, until recently, I wasn’t aware there was much life after 40, because TV hasn’t done me, or 40 year olds, the service of educating us. While there’s an excess of televised 20-something and teenage tales—“Glee,” “Degrassi,” “Saved By the Bell,” “Laguna Beach,” etc.—some even to the point of ridicule (“Not Another Teen Movie”), TV has only recently embraced the 40-something as a standalone, main character.

“Togetherness,” one of HBO’s latest offerings, remedies this problem. The show follows married couple Brett and Michelle as they navigate such benign tasks as completing kindergarten applications and having sex with a disinterested spouse. The same general plot rendered sitcom material in shows like “Parenthood” or “Modern Family” gets the prestige treatment under the steady hand of the Duplass brothers. With it, the banality of the couple’s problems and their lives makes the show a 20-year-older, cross-continent version of the aforementioned “Girls.”

In his 40s, Brett, a mildly successful sound guy, is dissatisfied with his life—his wife, his marriage, his job, himself. His wife is in the same, if inverse, boat, though she seems more capable of coping. On the flip side of the token, there’s Alex, a failed actor, and Tina, an aging spinster, two live-in house guests and the friend and sister—respectively—of Brett and Michelle.

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As in “Girls,” or HBO’s other nouveau normal hit, “Looking,” all four seem to idle in their age and their uncertainties. In one of Tina’s first appearances, she asks her sister, “Do you know what it’s like to be dating at my age?”; Alex continues to bemoan lost hair and lost time on his quest to become a working actor; Michelle pits herself and her age against the youthful hipsters in the kick-the-can episode; and Brett is chastised by a coworker who reminds him, “We’re all hungry and tired. But we’re grown-ups.”

Absent are the obvious signs of adult life (none of the cast can handle their beers) and the constant reference to old age, “Togetherness” seems to give no hint at a secret formula to adulthood. I’ve found no lit path or pointing arrows and no guiding principles on how do this grownup thing or how to handle that adult situation in the series’ first six episodes. Instead, what the show seems to project, at least to a wise, hardened, newly minted, 21-year-old adult, is that life at 40 is life as always and obstacles always seem insurmountable until they don’t.

It is so refreshing to see that even grown-ups don’t have their shit together.

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