[This is article discusses various aspects of Married season 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Married began life as another stale comedy about a couple who were – you guessed it – not quite as happy as they could be. Starring Judy Greer and Nat Faxon as Lina and Russ Bowman, the show debuted last year with an unfortunate pilot that, once it was out in the world, became the television equivalent of trying to put the genie back in the bottle. The series’ initial approach to how married couples communicate – or, rather, fail to – was exasperating beyond seeing another talented actor like Greer shuffled into the role of a put-upon wife whose husband’s interest in her seemed tied solely to the frequency with which they have sex.
While the early episodes have their fans, the first season only began to improve toward its latter half. It was there the chemistry between Greer and Faxon began to dominate the relatively low-stakes of the episodic narratives, and the supporting cast – which, with the likes of Jenny Slate, Paul Reiser, Brett Gelman, and John Hodgman, may be one of the best on television – was allowed to generate its own threads, rather than cling to whatever was going on in Lina and Russ’ lives.
The season ended on a promising note, with the sense that the kinks in the show were being worked out. It wasn’t that the series needed to be retooled so much as it needed to refocus its priorities on the elements that were working – i.e., the supporting cast and Lina and Russ being a couple who not only could stand being in the same room with one another, but also wanted to be. The sense of conflict in a relationship is great for storytelling, but when the relationship seems to be built entirely on conflict, it becomes tired very quickly.
Despite the upswing, there was the sense Married was backsliding into a familiar place with the start of season 2. ‘Thanksgiving‘ boasted some impressive guest stars in Frances Conroy and M.C. Gainey, but it suggested maybe the show’s greatest weakness is that it’s not so great with first impressions. That’s fine; plenty of shows aren’t. Pilots are difficult and season premieres can be too in their own unique way. But what Married lacked in quality first impressions, it more than made up for in becoming that quaint show you looked forward to hanging out with week in and week out.
Over the course of season 2, there were subtle shifts in the show’s formula that opened it up to more explorative storytelling. It wouldn’t be described as risky, by any means, but it certainly looked at the Bowmans and their friends with an emphasis on shaking up the status quo. The most obvious way the series did that was to give Russ less to complain about, and Lina, well, something different to complain about.
To bring about that change, the couple was given a modicum of financial security – which was a departure, since their lack of security drove much of overarching narrative of season 1. Russ wanted to go back to designing and Lina wasn’t sure what she wanted. In season 2, that change became a focal point: Russ had a stable job and Lina began working at a school. The risk here is that making characters comfortable can also make them boring. But what Married did was take the inherent (and relatable) selfishness of its two main characters and used that to create conflict within the arena of stability.
If anything, that is what season 2 was all about: the fear that success and stability somehow translates into boring and uncool. To the credit of the Married writer’s room, the season succeeded in making that the through-line of not only Lina and Russ’ thread, but of all the character threads throughout the season. This was most notably the case with A.J.’s adventures into sobriety, and it also became the plot of ‘1997,’ one of the better episodes of the season.
The notion of growing up, accepting stability, and no longer craving the drama typically associated with youth also became the driving force behind an important casting shake-up, as Jenny Slate’s role shifted from regular to recurring, due to her locking down her own upcoming series on FX. At any rate, the writers managed to take a behind-the-scenes shift and turn it into an emotionally compelling plotline for her husband Shep (Reiser), which also opened the door for the bizarre but charming trio of Reiser, Gelman, and Hodgman – who finally found a reason to come together without needing Russ or Lina to somehow be involved.
The strength of the Reiser-Gelman-Hodgman scenes are a testament to the overabundance of talent that Married has at its disposal, and in the final two episodes – which aired back-to-back in an ostensible hour-long finale – the show demonstrated a competency for crafting separate storylines for its characters and then consolidating them in a way that made sense, but also delivered an emotionally satisfying outcome.
Again, hints of Russ’ unchecked urges are apparent when in ‘Gymnastics’ he is faced with a former lover who he broke up with badly (or, evidently, not at all). Meanwhile in the actual finale, ‘The Waiter,’ Russ is tasked with handling what he perceives as a sexual advance from his assistant Miranda (Kimiko Glenn). There are hints of the more negative aspects of the pilot scattered about both episodes, and yet Married, like its characters, has matured to the point that it explores those notions in an unexpectedly fulfilling way.
It might be exciting and dangerous to entertain such selfish notions as an illicit affair with your attractive, youthful assistant, or taking a risky dream job, even if means losing much-needed benefits, but a big part of being an adult (okay, almost all of it) is resolving oneself to the idea of responsibility and commitment, and leaving the spectacle of unpredictability behind. And if Married accomplished anything in its very good second season, it’s that the show understands how achieving stability can be just as enticing as falling headlong into drama.
Screen Rant will keep you updated on the future of Married as information is made available.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX