FX’s promising new series Married bills itself as “a half-hour comedy about being miserably in love.” But as star Nat Faxon (who won an Oscar for penning The Descendants with Community actor/fellow “that guy” Jim Rash) said in a recent interview, the writing feels more like an indie movie than a sitcom. The dialogue is authentically raunchy, with a black streak running through it. Sun-drenched backdrop aside, Married could never find a home on USA; the show’s tone is too cloudy and claustrophobic. That’s a good thing.
The opening scene finds Russ Bowman (Faxon) trying to hoodwink his wife Lina (Judy Greer of Arrested Development and Archer fame) into giving him a handy, which has become more and more of a rarity as the Bowmans have grown into a bona fide brood. (“It doesn’t help that every time you look at me, I get pregnant,” Lina says.) They have three girls now, at least one of them unplanned, her arrival possible either because Russ took off the condom or because Lina’s vagina “ate it” (per Russ). Russ is horny, Lina’s exhausted. Like a lot of young parents, they don’t so much breathe as sigh.
The most frustrating part of the pilot is the underuse of Greer as Lina, and Lina’s too-familiar role (so far) as The Tired Wife, sort of a cold fish—albeit an open-minded one. (She gives Russ permission to seek his sexual release elsewhere, provided he’s discreet.) Russ/Faxon is affable enough, but the episode trails him so closely that Lina gets left behind. Are we supposed to believe that Lina’s interests stop at her children and vampire books? That Russ is the only one in this marriage with a sex drive and social life? I hope and expect future episodes won’t be so one-sided.
That being said, Russ’s friends make for an exceptionally strong supporting cast, especially John Hodgman as Bernie, a whipped man with the moustache of a nefarious suburbanite. Bernie loans Russ four hundred bucks, then races home to tell his wife about it, landing Russ’s ass squarely in hot water. (I doubt it’s funny on paper, but when Hodgman says “whore,” I laugh. And he says it four or five times in the money-lending scene.) Hodgman also gets maybe the best line of the pilot when he tells Russ, “Find out what she’s into. Pretend to like it, no matter how stupid it is. It’s called sensitivity.”
Brett Gelman (Drunk History, Eagleheart) is a pill-popping recent divorcé named AJ who is clearly not over his ex (to be played by Regina Hall). Jenny Slate (breakout star of Obvious Child, perpetual sight for sore eyes) is Jess, who is married to a much older man (to be played by Paul Reiser, who starred in a similar if much tamer show back in the day) and talks about it a lot. Like, far too much given that this is Jenny Slate and her range and value extend light years beyond, “My husband is old and can’t keep up with me.” Slate does maximize a couple deliveries (“No, it’s going so poorly!”), but I’m looking forward to less telling and more showing with Jess and her husband.
Like Obvious Child, Married seems to roll its eyes at traditional rom-coms. It’s strongest when the characters interact like real people, and weakest when it bends to sitcom law. Russ’s fruitful pursuit of a hot young waxer affords some laughs (I loved the framed picture of the fetus next to the girl’s bed), but it also strains belief and drags on too long. This episode didn’t need to be 27 minutes; it could have ended a few minutes sooner, when Russ got the hospital sexts and started whacking it. Sitcom law dictated that the writers put a bow on the story, and kudos to them for making that bow a bloody bandana. But we didn’t need resolution; that near-affair was DOA. Russ and Lina were always going to wind up back where they started—next to each other in bed, desperate for a hand.
Evan Allgood is deputy editor of Trop. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter.