FX‘s new show Married is the latest step in the network’s general aim of pushing the boundaries of series in any genre, and creating completely new genres. With a show that focuses on a married couple and their friends, the template for comedy series says that they’ve either got to be really happy, or basically hate each other. Give me one of those options, and the team of writers will spit out some laughs. As you might expect from FX, Married doesn’t want to play by those rules.
The show sells itself as being “a half-hour comedy about being miserably in love,” and while that may seem like an accurate description after the first couple of episodes, it doesn’t really tell you Russ (Nat Faxon) and Lina’s (Judy Greer) story. Married takes a shot at the kind of brutal honesty that, in the world of television ratings, is almost unforgivable. Instead of selling a fairy tale, perfect marriage, or poking fun at the torturous existence of an unhappy one, it dares to ask if perhaps it turns out that a perfect marriage (or a good… ish one, or something) seems a lot like a torturous existence.
We enter Russ and Lina’s life after three kids and a lot of years, and the romance has well and truly fled the relationship. Russ isn’t particularly happy about the state of their sex life, and Lina, worn out as a stay-at-home mom of three, doesn’t really care. They’re running awfully low on money, which doesn’t help anything, and the pressures of life in general aren’t exactly keeping themselves at bay. Life has become nothing more than a never-ending to-do list, and Russ and Lina act for all the world like two people who can’t stand the sight of each other anymore… except when they don’t.
While Lina may seem like she’s almost constantly acting like a bitch (and I’m not actually convinced about the show’s statements on that front), and Russ acts like he mostly just wants to get away from her, there’s an underlying vibe to everything that happens on the show, and the suggestion is somewhere near an idea that they have actually transcended being nice to each other.
That’s already crazier than any show has dared since The Jeffersons, which was a decidedly different spin on a similar theory, but Married takes things to extremes, mostly by also being nearly pornographic in its blunt and graphic sexual discussion. When the issue of the time between sexual encounters is broached in the first episode, Lina tells Russ he should go elsewhere. That’s an exchange that might not be out of place in hundreds of other sit-coms, except that she’s pretty serious, and he takes her up on it… sort of, and it somehow manages to avoid any connection with who is, or isn’t, happy in the marriage generally. This is after a scene in which Russ starts masturbating in bed as the two of them have a conversation so bloated with total indifference that it somehow manages to defuse Russ’… interesting behavior.
That seems to be the standard attitude for the show, although things level out slightly after a few episodes. Russ spends a fair amount of time with two of his best friends, Jess (Jenny Slate), and AJ (Brett Gelman), and they serve as further spurs to the no-holds-barred “adult” comedy. Jess won’t stop beating herself up about her older husband, which opens the door to a lot of sex jokes, and AJ is recently divorced, which leads to a lot of sex… uncomfortableness.
Already not for everyone in more ways than one, the show also features a brand of comedy that goes for the long con, with the real punch lines sometimes not showing up for a couple episodes. The payoff, for example, to a certain angle of Jess’ whining about her husband doesn’t show up for three or four episodes, and even if it might be hilarious, it’s risky to hope that audiences will stick around that long.
The beauty of the show, much as it may be lost on many who won’t tune in more than once, is that it is so oddly true to these unsympathetic characters that the comedy doesn’t matter. It’s a pretty funny show, though it isn’t going to manage the highest of marks on that score from anyone, even if that’s only because no one is that big of a fan of awkward comedy. But, the real meat comes from an almost surreal connection to people you don’t want to connect with. You’ll explain it away as a connection to a hyperbolic sense of statement, but that’s only because you don’t want to cringe and admit similarities at the same time.
The possible rough spot, because I’m not a woman, is that Lina seems like she might be more of a character that is created through a lens of how Russ sees her, as opposed to how we might more accurately deliver her point of view “objectively,” but aside from that, the show goes where other shows don’t dare, and in doing so pulls you into something you aren’t at all convinced you want any part of. Then you realize you just said that about marriage.