August 8, 2014

FX’s “Married:” The easy banter, the vicious retorts

What sets “Married” on FX apart from normal sitcoms is the chemistry of the two leads, Judy Greer and Nat Faxon, along with scripts that allow for improvisation.

“Married,” a half-hour comedy that airs 10 p.m. 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, Judy Greer and Nat 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 FX president John Landgraf. “In truth, we haven’t had a relationship comedy.” (“Married” is programmed with “You’re the Worst,” about the dating habits of solipsistic singles.)

Landgraf said 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.

Faxon, a father of three, and 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,” 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,” Greer said, patting his arm, after having to remind him about a pivotal moment in an episode.

They knew each other from “The Descendants,” the 2011 Alexander Payne family drama in which she had a small role. (Faxon shared the Oscar for it with his writing partner, Jim Rash, and Payne.)

It was Faxon’s involvement in “Married,” she insisted over his protestations, that helped persuade her to take the part.

Their loose approach was encouraged by Gurland. The cast, which includes writer-performer John Hodgman and comedians Jenny Slate and Brett Gelman, improvised freely: “Welcome to my ex-home,” Gelman’s character says to some call girls. “Try not to slip on my tears.” The show has not been an immediate hit, and, Gurland said, “I understand why – it’s a little bit polarizing.”

“Life is like that; marriage is like that,” 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!'”

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