Some series like to start their seasons with a big opener. FX’s Married is not one those programs, nor does it need to be. The quiet, depressing, amusing, realistic look at marriage is all about the characters and the way their complex relationships are portrayed. They do not need big stories or ratings-grabbing stunts to make it good.
It’s funny that, considering what I just said, the first episode of season two is called “Thanksgiving.” Traditionally, sitcoms have used holidays, especially that one, to do splashier plots. Married constantly subverts what one expects from a family comedy, though, and this season premiere is no exception. It isn’t actually Thanksgiving in the episode, and while the set up is familiar, the way it plays out is edgy and unexpected.
I liked season one a lot, but it took some time to get settled into what it was. As Married begins its second run with “Thanksgiving,” though, it’s clear those rough edges have been smoothed out. The half hour both feels at once totally in sync with the previously installments, but also more polished and solid. Fans now understand Russ (Nat Faxon) and Lina (Judy Greer) a lot better, and this knowledge definitely colors how we see them interact. This union has its ups and downs, but there is real love there, and they do make a good team.
I have to take a moment to admire Greer and Faxon’s skills. When the casting was first announced, I was familiar with them both, but usually as second-rate players, so I assumed they would be here as well. This is not the case. Given good material that seems perfectly tailored to them, they have both emerged as worthy stars. I admire both the nuance and the realism in their performances, and their chemistry is fantastic. I think my favorite part of Married is just watching the two in a scene together, which never disappoints.
“Thanksgiving” finds them visiting Lina’s mother, Janice (Frances Conroy, American Horror Story), who is no longer mentally all there. Janice lives with Ed (M.C. Gainey, Lost), who is not Lina’s dad, but has been with Janice for well over a decade. Lina worries that Ed might not have Janice’s best interests at heart, especially when the topic turns to sex. Is she right? And whether she is or not, what is she in a position to do about it, and does she have a right to overrule Ed? Aging parents are a topic many a married couple has to deal with, and I like Married‘s grounded take.
While Lina and Russ are the central characters of married, AJ (Brett Gelman) and Jess (Jenny Slate) are also main characters. Often, while they’ve had tiny subplots, they’ve been regulated to supporting people, coming in far distant in importance from the leads. “Thanksgiving” fixes that, giving them their own, fully fleshed out, interesting B story. It does not relate to Russ and Lina at all, Jess actually has to learn something, and we get to see them both as separate individuals, a welcome development. Plus, there are hilarious little moments for Shep (Paul Reiser) thrown in, making me wish he appeared just a bit more.
Married isn’t the perfect show. Some will find it too serious to be considered a comedy, even though that’s what it bills itself as. However, this is not much different from what HBO and Showtime sell as sitcoms, and while Married is confined to the limitations of basic cable, it certainly has more leash than a show on the Big Four. It expertly finds that middle ground, still funny like the general public might expect, sometimes laugh-out-loud levels of such, but also displaying the depth and talent that the premiums do. I’m very satisfied with its return, a marked improvement over the already-good freshman season.
Married returns Thursday at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00QTEPF60]