Having screened the first four episodes of “Married,” one of FX’s new comedy series debuting this week, I have to take issue with the use of the word “comedy.”
At the center of “Married,” created by Andree Gurland (The Last Exorcism), is Russ and Lina Bowman, played by Nat Faxon and Judy Greer, are a married (duh) couple juggling declines in their finances and sex life. They also have three children to raise, which adds another layer of frustration to them. The cast is rounded out by two of Russ’ wacky friends, Jess (Jenny Slate) and AJ (Brett Gelman), who offer misguided advice amidst their own dysfunctional lives.
It’s hard for me to call “Married” a comedy, as the bulk of its stories are rife with a mean sarcasm that doesn’t evoke much actual laughter. “Married” comes across as unhappy because its characters are unhappy. Lina’s refusal to have sex with Russ, despite his attempts both aggressive and cheesy, quickly brand her as nearly shrewish, something the show then must work hard to counter as the season progresses. But Russ isn’t much better. When his boss, Bernie, played by John Hodgman (whom I normally adore) in a bit of awkward casting, advises Russ to invest in his wife’s interests, Russ takes a more mocking approach instead. By the fourth episode, things begin to gel a bit for me with the Bowmans. There are some genuine laughs as the couple try to have phone sex in a thrift shop despite Lina emasculating him earlier in the hour. What I liked about this episode is that I finally saw the connection between Russ and Lina. I understood how these two ended up together and fell in love, something they would no doubt mock at this point in their lives.
Things don’t lighten up much with the supporting players. AJ is constantly tormented by his divorce and his ex-wife’s ability to move on. He mopes around, nearly even depressing the prostitutes he orders in the third episode. By the fourth episode, Jess becomes the most grating character, growing angry with her older husband, played by Paul Reiser, as he won’t manipulate his client into aborting her baby. Jenny Slate is a talented actress, displaying her dramatic chops, but it’s just a rough topic for a comedy.
I think the problem with “Married” is that it doesn’t seem to know who its characters are. Instead, the show is discovering these people along with us as the series progresses. There’s heavy subject matter for a half hour television comedy, and it could use a dose of awkwardness or silliness to lighten things up. The “situation” part of sitcom is present, if only these characters whined less and took more action. Still, this could be where the humor is supposed to be, that we are intended to laugh at the ineffectuality of the Russ, Lina, AJ, and Jess. But that would make us just as mean as they are.
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