The strongest, most heartwarming relationship on Togetherness is not any of the romantic entanglements: It’s always been the BFF-ing of Alex and Brett. Look at the poster for season two: It’s those two in the middle, with the women clinging on the outside. The finest moments of the series so far have featured this pair: Sitting on the porch in lounge chairs, air-drumming the solo to “Tom Sawyer,” bolstering and supporting each other no matter what. If we’re really goddamn lucky, we have a friend like that, the kind you can call and ask, “Remember that thing that happened 25 years ago?” and they remember like it was yesterday. Here Brett and Alex even get a rom-com-worthy dress-cute montage at the thrift store, as well as a walk-cool into the bar to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” only to be greeted with Hootie’s “Hold My Hand.”

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What’s helpful about this disintegration in Brett and Michelle’s marriage is that it gives Alex and Tina a chance to step up. Tina especially has been in need of a win (still with her smashed car outside), so it’s good to see her in the caregiver role for once: Cleaning up Brett’s vomit, taking care of the kids, smoothing her sister’s hair. She probably should have thought through the smack-down with Christy, who, after all, was just trying to help, even if it wasn’t in the most tactful way ever. But Christy’s not family: Michelle is, and the few moments shown between the sisters were inspired.

But it’s good that there were only a few, so as not to detract from Brett and Alex’s return home (filmed in pure Michigan!). Cancun would have been fun. but visiting their hometown offered so much more emotional ground for these two to cover. For example, Family Ties patriarch Michael Gross as Brett’s stern dad, who apparently dealt with so much hijinks from these two that he is nonplussed to find them tearing up his yard. It’s also noteworthy how easily Alex and Brett regress on this trip, sliding back into their hipster roles, and squirming in front of their one authority figure. Brett even has to use Alex as a cover, and it’s clear from that entire exchange that this is far from the first time.

The cool-kids party is hilarious, but the time capsule sealed the episode for me. As young Brett and Alex predicted, when you grow up, it is too easy to get caught in the labels you now have in your career, with your spouse, as the head of a family. Most of us forget what cheeky little bastards we once were. Absolute tears when young Brett reminded future Brett of his own awesomeness. It’s insightful here to get more background even on Brett and Alex’s artistic past, seeing as they collaborated on projects for years before trying to hit the big time in California.

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Where one of them made it, and so far one of them hasn’t, but the beauty of the Brett and Alex friendship comes to a head in the confrontation scene after the party. Brett knows that Alex totally dissed him and ignored his calls while he was in New Orleans: “You fucking ignored me, and it hurt.” He says it, and Alex admits what he did, and they move past it because they love each other. They even hug. God, if only marital confrontations could be as simple as the one that Alex and Brett have here. Brett, rightfully, is freaking out, and Alex may be juggling phone calls, but he is giving up a lot to shelter his friend (and keeping a hawk eye on him as he flirts with old flame Kennedy).

So this episode, in particular, celebrates their entire friendship. Besides the fight and the time capsule, perhaps the perfect summation shot is Alex running in slow-mo, pushing the wounded Brett in a wheelchair, getting him to their flight on time. Supporting his friend in the most basic way possible by propelling him along. There’s also the need, as Brett explains what he wants to do in the car, to step outside of ourselves completely. In the “Advanced Pretend” part of the title, Tina is pretending to be a grownup, Alex is pretending his friend isn’t falling apart, and in Detroit, Brett is pretending that he’s moved back in time, with no traces of his West Coast life. So who is Brett without sunshine, without Michelle, without his wedding ring, without Sophie and baby Frank? Turns out, he’s a broody guy in a tacky tux who plays excellent ping-pong. But when Kennedy makes a move on him (while he’s peeing; bad idea, Kennedy) Brett knows that are limits to how far he can leave his old life behind: Even in Detroit, he has to admit that he’s married.

Last week I talked about my disdain for most sad-coms: This week I tried with yet another one, Love. Although Gillian Jacobs is flat-out amazing, she wasn’t enough to keep me interested in the show. I think Togetherness gets lumped in with these kinds of series (I’ve done it myself), and I think that does it and the Duplasses a disservice. Because even in a sad episode, like this one, Togetherness hosts a genuine sweetness that is extremely rare. And when it comes right down to it, the sweetest part of the show is the friendship of Alex and Brett.

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Stray observations

  • Tina, if someone offers to change a diaper for you, you never say no. I don’t care if you hate the person or not.
  • Power rankings: Alex and Tina (tie for No. 1) are rising to the top while Brett and Michelle (tie for No. 2) are sinking.
  • That’s One Tree Hill’s Hilarie Burton as on-the-make Kennedy.
  • Complete aside, but years before this job I worked at the Chicago History Museum. Michael Gross was in town for awhile, doing a play at the Steppenwolf, I believe. So for several weeks, he would come into the museum’s research center to work on some personal project. Everyone on staff pretty much just gawked at him (we didn’t get a lot of celebrity visitors), squashing every impulse not to run up and tell him that he was one of our favorite TV dads. He was so intent on his project, you just didn’t want to disturb him. Anyway, he’s a very nice man.

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