“Togetherness” may be canceled, but its Emmy dreams live on. HBO is still pushing the show as an awards contender despite the show’s demise after two seasons.
“‘Togetherness’ is absolutely part of the HBO Emmy campaign,” newly minted HBO series, late night and specials president Casey Bloys said in a statement. “We would love to see the hard work and talent of the Duplass Brothers and their exceptional cast receive the recognition they deserve.”
Don’t count the show out for an Emmy nomination or two. The beloved but low-rated comedy from Mark and Jay Duplass earned rave reviews, especially for its stellar cast, all of whom are eligible, formidable and worthy contenders this year.
Indiewire spoke with co-creator Mark Duplass about the goal of the show’s Emmy campaign, who he really wants to see recognized, and his favorite memories, scenes and challenges from the best cancelled Emmys contender of 2016.
In a dream scenario, if “Togetherness” Season 2 gets 30 Emmy nominations and sweeps the awards, is there any way that this could come back in any shape or form, at any network?
I think the possibility of “Togetherness” getting 30 Emmy nominations is super exciting and probably unlikely. [laughs] But I couldn’t speak to that. I haven’t been through that before. As of now, there are no plans to revive it and part of that is because we’ve already moved on to some other things. Part of that is just the way the show was made. It actually can’t be revived anywhere else. Every show has a different DNA. But nobody knows anything, so who the fuck knows? We’ll see.
The comment that I got directly from HBO was, “Togetherness is absolutely part of the HBO Emmy campaign.” How involved you are in that process?
It’s still pretty early in terms of people running their campaigns, although it seems like this year — and you probably noticed this, too — that people are starting things a little bit earlier. There’s no sort of secret that there’s a glut of TV, and people are trying to figure out how to get recognized now. We’re still trying to figure that out, too. I’m not going to be jumping out of any airplanes with the “Togetherness” banner anytime soon — although maybe I should. I’ve never run an Emmys campaign, so I honestly don’t really know what to expect.
For my part, the most important recognition for me and “Togetherness” is our cast. That’s not just because I think they’re talented, and I love them, personally. It’s just that they are the heart and soul of the show and they’re intensely collaborative with us. Awards are what they are, but for my part, I want to see Melanie [Lynskey] and Steve [Zissis] and Amanda [Peet] not only get recognized for their great work, but put them in a position so that they can go find that next great show. If an Emmy can help with that, then I’m going to do everything I can to get that going.
I wanted to try a little word association, connecting the cast members and a scene from Season 2 you’re really proud of, or that stands out. Let’s start with Amanda Peet.
It’s just a tiny moment. It’s after she crashes her car and she gets out and is feeling very vulnerable, embarrassed and angry. The first thing she does is haul up her white jeans to make sure they’re fitting properly. That is just the definition of Tina Morris, played by Amanda Peet. That was something that we wrote with Amanda in mind and it got us so excited. When she played it, it was exactly what we wanted and more.
In terms of Melanie, I would say that very same episode, when she drops her big secret on Brett — at the end of Episode 2. We like to shoot with some improvisation and we like to try different things. Usually when someone has an emotional burst in a scene, you get one take at it, maybe two, and then they’re spent and done. We shot six or seven takes of that scene and it just kept coming. She kept holding it together, letting it fall out. She would lose it and bring it back together. I’ve never seen an actress that physically in tune with her emotions and have the ability to access like that. It was just incredible. That was really very definitive of Melanie.
For Steve, it’s tough because Steve’s like my brother. I love everything he does and I’ve known him for so long, so I don’t have a very objective perspective on him whatsoever. It’s probably the big fight he has with Amanda in Episode 2 because there’s just this thing…I can make him say the most rude and asshole-ish things in the world in the script, yet he still comes across as vulnerable and likable. I don’t know what that is or what that quality is in him. But all I would say is if you ever have a script where someone is behaving in a way you’re worried he’s not going to be likable enough, you don’t have to rewrite it. All you have to do is cast Steve Zissis.
That opening episode when Steve is playing Alex who’s playing a vampire character in a movie; he’s being asked to be a great actor in that scene, but he’s also acting the scene as Zissis. There’s a lot of layers to that. How do you go about directing him for such a meta scene?
Steve is so emotionally aware and he’s such a grown up that he’s not sensitive about any of that stuff. We’re all pretty close, so it’s easy to have those conversations. It’s actually fun to bring a lot of that stuff to light. Admittedly, where he goes in Season 2 is a little bit different from how he is personally. Season 1’s a much more meta-performance. Season 2 is a much more of a traditional performance playing different things. It’s no secret that we created that character — and, in many ways, created this show — to give Steve a vehicle to show the world what he could do. So, the great thing about Steve is that he was not only willing to do it, but he wanted to do it.
What was the biggest challenge for you and your brother as directors?
The third episode, which is set in Detroit mostly, was a real challenge to get right because sometimes you write a script and it’s 30 pages and you know exactly what to do with it. Sometimes you write a script that is a little longer or a little shorter and it is a little bit more what we call “poetry-based” instead of narrative-based. The narrative-based ones are super easy to direct because you know what you’re looking for and you know what you’re going to get.
Now, when you’ve gone out and you’re looking for poetry, you’re not always sure how to get it and you have to have these weird moments of doubt about whether you’re getting it. You have to explore. You have to have that hour on set where everything you’re shooting sucks and you’re not sure if you’re going to get it because you’re on a hunt for it. Those are, ultimately, incredibly rewarding if you get them right. But they’re scary because you have a 100-person crew waiting for you to find some sort of elusive magic that you’re hunting for. I would say that that third episode is very emblematic of something that was sort of terrifying to tackle.
Do you feel even more of that pressure considering that you’re, especially in that episode, a big part of it as an actor?
It doesn’t feel separate to me. We have lots of different roles, but ultimately, at the end of the day, we’re just two brothers trying to make stuff. Whether I’m acting or whether I’m not, it doesn’t seem to compound it for me. We’re just kind of thrown in it together. We still sort of feel like we’ve gathered a group of people together and we’re trying to set up a successful Kool-Aid stand at the curb in 1983.
I’m curious about your writing process because you have so many unique scenes. Finding the time capsule in Episode 3 is a great one. Getting the sand from the beach later on is another. What’s your brainstorming process like? How do you find those scenes that are so new and unique, but still feel so relatable and grounded?
That’s a big compliment. Thank you for that. The process is a little bit different than the average writers’ room in that Jay and I actually put the pen to paper for every episode ourselves. We do that. But we have this room of people that would meet up once or twice a week for a few hours, and we would share story ideas with them and they would help us improve them. Then we would share an outline for an episode and they’d also help us improve that. Then we would write the script for the episode and they would read that and help improve it. It’s almost like a little think tank that also included Steve Zissis and Jay Deuby, who’s our longtime collaborator and the head editor of our show.
We would also try to hire some really smart, seasoned female writers to come in and help us with the female perspective and also some story form that Jay and I are not as experienced with in the TV format. So, it was always led by me and Jay. In that way, I think it plays much more like the way our movies would play where we are ultimately the authors of the whole thing as opposed to a showrunner who’s trying to shepherd multiple authors together.
[Editor’s Note: Indiewire’s Consider This campaign is an ongoing series meant to raise awareness for Emmy contenders our editorial staff and readership find compelling, fascinating and deserving. Running throughout awards season, Consider This contenders may be underdogs, frontrunners or somewhere in between. More importantly, they’re making damn good television we all should be watching, whether they’re nominated or not.]