The Easy Banter and the Vicious Retorts of ‘Married’
By Melena Ryzikaug, The New York Times
- Aug. 3, 2013
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Scenes from a Hollywood marriage, the cable television version:
Exterior — nighttime, in an affluent section of Los Angeles. Russ, a sporadically employed, marginally responsible, undersexed husband and father, and Lina, his put-upon but sharp wife and the stay-at-home mother of their three daughters, are going to an engagement party. It’s in a mansion.
“God, I hope my second husband is this rich,” Lina says as they walk through. Russ replies, “Well, you’re free to marry him as soon as my next wife graduates high school.” They debate whether they should make out in a stranger’s shower.
Scenes from an arranged Hollywood marriage:
Interior — afternoon, at a beachside restaurant here. Judy Greer, a comedic actress beloved for her supporting turns in dozens of TV shows and movies, who plays Lina in the new FX series “Married,”
enters. She is late and harried. Her co-star, Nat Faxon, a writer, director and actor who won an adapted screenplay Oscar for “The Descendants,” is waiting. He plays Russ. “I’m going to cry,” Ms. Greer says, by way of hello. She had been stuck in traffic for nearly an hour.
Mr. Faxon suggests a drink; Ms. Greer orders rosé. “I’m not a big rosé guy,” says Mr. Faxon, who grew up around Boston and still plays in an ice hockey league. The bottle appears. He makes fun of her, swirling it around in his glass and murmuring, “Mmm, Côtes de Provence.”
“Stop,” she commands and turns to their audience. “Will you write that he ordered the rosé?” she asks a reporter sweetly. Mr. Faxon laughs. They polish off the bottle.
“Married,” a half-hour comedy that airs Thursdays on FX
, begins with a well-worn TV premise: A middle-class couple bicker about kids, money and their sex life. On a broadcast network, their struggles might be played through affection and smooth punch lines; on this cable show, the humor is spikier and raunchier. What sets it apart is the chemistry of the two leads, Ms. Greer and Mr. Faxon, along with scripts that allow for copious improvisation from the comedian-heavy cast.
“Faxon and Greer are both charismatic, jangly, scene-stealing performers,” the critic Willa Paskin wrote on Slate. “They may not like their circumstances, but at least they like each other, and that makes them good sitcom company.”
Created and written by Andrew Gurland, the series is a way for FX, known for dude-centric shows like “Louie” and “Sons of Anarchy,” to broaden its approach. “I did want to branch out from doing shows that were about man-children or arrested development,” said John Landgraf, the president of FX. “In truth, we haven’t had a relationship comedy.” (“Married” is programmed with “You’re the Worst,” about the dating habits of solipsistic singles.)
But Mr. Landgraf added that his channel specialized in shows that deconstructed genres. “I loved the idea of doing a comedy where Russ and Lina are just frankly, at times, harsher and more honest and more open with each other than most married people are,” he said.
For Mr. Gurland, 43, that dynamic wasn’t a stretch. “The inspiration for the show was: I was in a bad place, and I literally started calculating how many more times I was going to have sex before I die,” he said.
He pitched a pilot to FX that drew from his friends’ lives, and his own: Mr. Gurland and his wife, Michelle, also have three daughters and a mocking repartee. Though she’s uncredited, his wife helped write the final episodes. Now, he said, “if we’re in the middle of the fight, she’ll just roll her eyes and go, ‘Put it in the show.’ ”
Mr. Faxon, himself a father of three, and Ms. Greer, recently married with two teenage stepchildren, found that the show’s themes resonated, too. In one episode, Russ tells Lina he’s going to work, sneaks off to surf instead and gets caught. “That has certainly happened to me,” Mr. Faxon said, and added, deadpan, “Just showing up in a wet suit and sandy hair — I can’t believe I didn’t get away with it.”
During a two-hour lunch interview, the co-stars were as in sync as a real couple, if perhaps more tolerant. “I love my TV husband,” Ms. Greer said, patting his arm, after having to remind him about a pivotal moment in an episode. Mr. Faxon pretended to mask his jealousy when she mentioned the number of gifts she got from her agents. Mr. Faxon was the first to sign on for “Married.”
She: “How was the audition process?”
He: “I auditioned. Judy did not. That gives you some indication of our careers.” He began fake-crying.
She, rolling her eyes: “Whatever, Oscar.”
They knew each other from “The Descendants,” the 2011 Alexander Payne family drama in which she had a small role. (Mr. Faxon memorably sharedthe Oscar for it with his writing partner, Jim Rash, and Mr. Payne.) Since then, he and Mr. Rash have written and directed the family comedy “The Way, Way Back” (2013), and he has starred in the Fox sitcom “Ben and Kate,” which lasted one season. “I thought I had accrued enough currency at this point to just have an easier time getting things made, but it has proved otherwise,” he said. He and Mr. Rash are nonetheless working on two film scripts to direct.
Ms. Greer, currently in theaters as the female chimp in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” had recurring roles on “Arrested Development” and “Two and a Half Men,” and wrote a well-received memoir, “I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star.”
“Even though I’ve had, depending on how you look at it, no success in television or a lot of success in television, I don’t ever really get a second season,” she said.
It was Mr. Faxon’s involvement in “Married,” she insisted over his protestations, that helped persuade her to take the part. Given that the material could be raw and emotional, she said, “I didn’t want to do it with a jerk face.”
To prepare for their short, intense shoot, an assistant compiled binders filled with scripts and schedules. “I went to Staples and picked out the binder colors,” Ms. Greer said, and she decorated Mr. Faxon’s, with pictures of the Boston Celtics, “and an ugly picture of you.”
Mr. Faxon: “It was so well thought out.”
Ms. Greer: “Did you ever open your binder?”
Mr. Faxon: “Never, not once. And neither did you. It spoke volumes about our working relationship.”
Their loose approach was encouraged by Mr. Gurland. The cast, which includes the writer-performer John Hodgman (a contributor to The New York Times Magazine) and the comedians Jenny Slate and Brett Gelman, improvised freely: “Welcome to my ex-home,” Mr. Gelman’s character says to some call girls. “Try not to slip on my tears.” (Disclosure: I have known Mr. Gelman for over a decade.) The show has not been an immediate hit, and, Mr. Gurland said, “I understand why — it’s a little bit polarizing.”
But Mr. Landgraf, the FX executive, expressed his commitment, noting that the network’s longtime cult favorite “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” took a while to find traction. And the stars said they liked the freedom of cable and black comedy.
“Life is like that; marriage is like that,” Mr. Faxon said. “It is not all, like, embracing and witty quips, and” — in a network-announcer voice — “she’s this way and he’s that way, but they complement each other!’”
Ms. Greer, in an exasperated TV-wife tone: “The keys are in your hand! I love you.” They laughed.
“We’re never getting a network TV show again,” Ms. Greer said.