Television Secret Santa – Married

Over the holidays we decided to treat ourselves to some quality shows by doing another round of TV Secret Santas. This time, instead of picking shows for each other, we all wrote down the names of various shows (which we had either seen and wanted others to watch or hadn’t seen at all) and did a random blind pick out of a Santa hat (or in our case a Ziploc bag). This week Jane discusses her pick, Married.

1.) What show did you pick? Married, Season 1 (and some of season 2)

2.) What did you know about the show before you started watching? Absolutely nothing. I’d never heard of it before.

3.) What is the show actually about? Married is a dramatic comedy on FX which focuses on the lives of married couple Russ and Lina Bowman and how they cope with being adult married people with kids.

4.) What did you think about the show after the first episode? I struggled with the first few episodes of Married but I found the pilot, in particular, to be tedious . The central conflict, that Russ wants more sex and Lina doesn’t, has been done to death and the show doesn’t provide any new or surprising slant on the formula. Despite the quirky, improvisational tone of the dialogue most of the laughs in the first episode are broad sex jokes. Russ must move to the couch if he wants to masturbate even though “Doggy (style) is his jam.” There is a gag that bookends the episode where Russ tries to trick Linda into touching his penis that I found borderline problematic.

The performances of the two leads, Nat Faxon and Judy Greer showed sparks of something great but (in the first episodes) those flickers are scarce. Russ and Linda are not great people. Fine. I’ve enjoyed shows about not-so-great people before but the flaws in Russ and Linda aren’t interesting. Lina is shrill and depressed and Russ is a man-child who wants more sex. However, there is a moment near the end of the pilot that charmed and compelled me to give the show another chance. Russ and Lina are hosting a funeral for their daughter’s dead fish and Russ turns to Linda as he notices  “You make cute kids…except for this one.” Lina: “I know, whose kid is this?” It is this sweet, funny and romantic moment that illustrates the couples shared sense of humor as well as a moment of understanding that they are doing a good job and that marriage is hard. It was an unexpected moment in a familiar sitcom setting.

5.) How did that change after the last episode? Quite a lot. Through the course of 10 episodes (there are two seasons of the show but I found it difficult to get my hands on most of season two) it has become clear that Married‘s angle is to place its archetypal leads in conventional sitcom situations so we can watch them find their way out unconventionally. The show didn’t win me over entirely, but the acting certainly did. The casting of Faxon and Greer is genius. They are these quirky, off-beat actors playing the traditional roles of middle-aged, struggling married people. As the series moves along, eccentricities burst from the characters in predictable places. It’s how I imagine we all cast ourselves in middle-age. Quirky, eccentric and all around really cool people trapped in these conventional lives. The weird stuff has to break through sometime.

It was the 5th episode, The Play Date, that started to change my thinking of the show. In this episode Russ and Lina begrudgingly accept a play date for their daughter at another tired, trapped couples home. Michaela Watkins as the stereo-typically snotty, rich house wife Stacey and her detached husband play hosts. Again, Married places its leads in a familiar sitcom setting, but here’s where I noticed things start to get more interesting.

I expected an episode about how awful these people all were but was pleasantly surprised. The episode brought out tender moments in its characters by setting Russ and Lina up on their own play dates. Lina and Stacey find a meaningful connection as they break out of their conventional roles and break into the neighbours’ house to drink wine. They find a connection through their loneliness that is as deep as any so far in the series. Russ finds a kindred spirit in Stacey’s son who is obsessed with sex and porn. He asks Russ if he is sick because of all the porn he watches and when Russ admits that he himself still watches porn, there is this shared moment of relief and panic that passes between the two that is as funny as it is heartbreaking.

I wish the supporting cast shared more of these connections. Although I enjoyed the performances of Brett Gelman’s AJ and Jenny Slate as Jess I just didn’t believe that these people were all friends. To be fair they are mostly Russ’ friends, but when the three characters are together, although I find their antics funny, I just don’t know why they care to spend time with each other. They are pretty mean to one another. They provide comic relief, sure, but at the expense of any real development. I didn’t care about AJ’s descent into addiction because I didn’t care about him as a person. I didn’t care about Jess’ lack of fulfillment with her older husband because her friends didn’t seem to care. The relationship was never fleshed out to be more than the butt of their friends jokes.

I’m still torn about Married. While I appreciate the show’s humor and intelligence, I find it hard to watch. Lina and Russ are funny but deeply sad, troubled people whom I’ve grown to care about. Although at times hilarious, Married often leaves me with pit of sadness in my stomach. I haven’t yet decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I guess I’m not so much torn about Married as torn about my own feelings. It is a smart emotional show, that showcases some incredibly honest moments so I don’t really have much to complain about.

6.) Who would you recommend this show to? Open-minded people who are comfortable watching squirmy situations.

7.) Describe this show in one word. Grit-com. If that is not already a thing I would like to make it a thing.

8.) Any final shoutouts? The development in Season 2 of the Bowman’s becoming financially secure. I think it will be interesting to see if this shift makes Russ and Lina happier or if it is one less distraction from their loneliness.


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