HBO's Togetherness, which is joining Sunday nights with Girls and Looking, is, like its partners in timeslot, a thoughtful observational comedy that comes from stars in the independent film world. The Duplass brothers, Mark & Jay, are known for their mumblecore comedies, and they've brought frequent Duplass collaborator Steve Zissis onboard as a supporting character. Zissis is getting early raves as the best part of a pretty great show, the outlandishly pathetic character of Alex Pappas, a failing actor whose only recourse from being evicted is to move in with Duplass' character, who while similarly dissatisfied at least has a career and family life to fall back on.
Zissis and the Duplass brothers actually conceptualized the character together, forming him based on some of Zissis' experiences as a struggling actor living in Los Angeles. But exaggerated for comedic effect, because Zissis is beloved by members of the indie film scene, and has smaller parts in movies like Her and TV shows like The League that help pay the bills. But no one gets him like the Duplasses do, and they've written him some amazing roles over the years.
This was the Duplass Bros' second feature after 2003's The Puffy Chair, and it combined the hyperreal mumble core aesthetic with a low-fi horror concept: a group of pathetic actors head to the woods to write a scary movie about a guy wearing a bag over his head… who starts torturing them. Zissis is head over heels for Greta Gerwig's ingenue character, and the loosely improvised dialogue makes for awkward moments that buoy the human story behind the horror.
This was the Duplass' first Hollywood foray, but they brought along old pal Zissis as a minor supporting character. Zissis isn't a punchline kinda guy — he'd prefer to go for pathos every time. So it's easy to imagine Zissis in the John C. Reilly role, the put-upon but disastrous John who's willing to put everything on the line for his relationship with Marisa Tomei's Molly. But as is, he's Rusty, a tiny part that's barely a blip.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home
Zissis has a remarkable hold on the craft of acting, which many people assume the mumblecore genre discourages. But the Duplass Bros always write scripts, even if they aren't beholden to strict camerawork rules or against improv. That's all to say that in this movie, he plays against type. Instead of a pathetic almost-loser, he's the guy Judy Greer's character goes to for the safety of an affair.
In 2012, they gave Zissis another leading role as a boring suburban dad who gets wrapped up into a sports competition/race to the bottom with his brother. Combining slightly out of shape actors with 25 sporting events is a recipe for Zissis' sweatiest, most vulnerable character yet.
Image: Melissa Mosele/HBO