Jay and Mark Duplass' 'Togetherness' explores brotherly love

AP News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2015 11:30 AM
Jay and Mark Duplass' 'Togetherness' explores brotherly love

NEW YORK (AP) — Steps have been taken to avoid any mix-up distinguishing the voices — Mark's from Jay's — when the tape is transcribed. But the Duplass brothers assure their interviewer that, whether they're discussing their films or anything else, they don't care which name is attached to a quote.

"We share the same brain," Mark explains.

At any rate, they enjoy free access to each other's brain: "We are both obsessed with the human condition," says Jay, "and we're constantly in conversation about it."

The conversation continues as they join a reporter at HBO to publicize their first TV series, "Togetherness," whose third of eight episodes runs Sunday at 9:30 p.m. EST.

"Togetherness" is well worth catching up with. Funny, painful and (for a certain demo) all too relatable, it exudes the singular voice of this hydra-headed duo whose many hats include writing, producing, directing and, in Mark's case, headlining.

He plays Brett, a sound engineer and family man who has hit a wall in both his career and marriage. His wife, Michelle (played by Melanie Lynskey), feels imprisoned as a stay-at-home mom. Adding to the ferment is her sister Tina (Amanda Peet), a wayward hottie who lands in their Los Angeles home after splitting from Houston. Rounding out this domestic quartet is Mark's best friend, Alex (Steve Zissis), an out-of-work actor seeking refuge on the couple's couch.

"The more messed up we made them, the more it gave us to love, and root for, in them," says Mark. "They are trying very hard to be good people, spouses and parents, and to support each other — but then they feel like, 'I need to get the (heck) out of here! I need some space!' That's how Jay and I sometimes perceive our lives."

The Duplass brothers grew up in New Orleans and, from childhood, made films.

Early on, they were bewitched by John Cassavetes and his brooding cinema-verite style, says Mark, "but we also loved 'Dumb and Dumber.' We see the seriousness and gravity in things. But we also giggle. That combination of the sad and the funny is what we do."

After struggling through their 20s, they scored in 2005 with "The Puffy Chair," which they jointly wrote, directed and produced, with Mark as its protagonist. It was followed by such films as "Cyrus," starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei, and "Jeff Who Lives at Home," starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms.

Then this fraternal order (Mark now is 38, Jay is 41) took on middle-age angst.

"By then, each of us was married with two small kids," says Jay, "and everyone was like, 'You have it all: a beautiful family, a career, a wonderful house.' But in our minds was, 'I'm sleep-deprived. I don't have two seconds to myself. My life is dominated by a tiny little being that wakes up every two hours.'"

"All we wanted," Mark says, "was to be sleeping on someone's couch, then wake up and binge on Netflix."

Not the sort of thing you could say to most people. Certainly not to Steve Zissis, their close friend since high school whose youthful promise thus far had gone unrealized, both romantically and professionally.

"He was dreaming about how beautiful our lives were," says Jay with a laugh, "but we were thinking: He can sit down and eat a sandwich without being interrupted 15 times in a row."

"Togetherness" began to take form with Zissis a key element — "It's been part of our life's mission to show the world how amazing he is," Jay explains.

An essential part of the Duplass ethos, brotherly love, would exist in the friendship between Brett and Alex. Alex and Tina would be bonded by fear of life passing them by as each approached the big 4-0, while Brett and Michelle bore the crush of being overcommitted adults.

"We were looking at both sides of the same coin," says Jay. "It seemed to form a critical mass of desperation — and so much comedy!"

Production took a year, complicated by other producing ventures, as well as Mark's role in the long-running FX comedy "The League," and an on-camera debut for Jay: He plays one of the agitated progeny of transgender dad Jeffrey Tambor in the Amazon comedy "Transparent," which premiered this fall to critical acclaim and recently landed two Golden Globes.

Their pace hasn't slowed. But amid the rash of future projects, they aim to shoot more "Togetherness" in the spring, when they'll resolve the cliff-hanger that concludes this season.

"We thought we knew what would happen," Jay declares. "But when we started talking about Season 2, it started changing."

"We know ALL of Season 2 now," says Mark.

"We talk about Season 3 sometimes," Jay says.

"That's not smart, 'cause we're not picked up yet," Mark says. "But we can't stop ourselves."

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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