“Togetherness,” the Duplass brothers’ modern-love dramedy, returns to HBO for its second season at 9:30 p.m. Sunday. The story restarts on location in New Orleans, where a quartet of entwined characters resumes exploring almost-midlife work, family and relationship challenges.
Otherwise set in Los Angeles, “Togetherness” stars Mark Duplass and Melanie Lynskey as married-with-kids couple Brett and Michelle, and Steve Zissis and Amanda Peet as Alex and Tina, Brett’s best friend and Michelle’s sister, respectively.
As the season opens, Alex, heretofore a struggling character actor, is working on a film and finally enjoying career success foreshadowed at the conclusion of season one. The others surprise him with a New Orleans set-visit.
It’s appropriate that New Orleans figures in the story. Zissis is a native, as are Mark and Jay Duplass — brothers, movie- (and now TV-) making partners and DIY indie-film icons. All three are Jesuit High School alums. Stephanie Langhoff, an executive producer on the show and president of Duplass Brothers Productions, is a Mount Carmel Academy graduate.
“The weirdest part for me is that we were like tourists,” Jay Duplass said during a January meeting with the NOLA-native “Togetherness” team at the show’s Los Angeles production office. “We flew in and were transported to a hotel in the French Quarter. I think the last time I stayed in a hotel in the French Quarter was my wedding.”
A tight, two-day production schedule for the New Orleans scenes, mostly shot at night a few days before Jazz Fest 2015, necessitated convenient accommodations.
“It’s weird to stay in hotels in your hometown,” Mark Duplass said. “Every time I’ve put my head on a pillow in that city, it’s at a relative’s house or a friend’s house.”
“My mom had a little trouble understanding why we didn’t want to stay with her,” Zissis added. “Which was nothing personal, Mom.”
Still, the comfort level for the cast and crew was high, Langhoff said.
“We all know the city so well, and we were so comfortable shooting there,” she said. “It was so easy to shoot with so much knowledge of the city. I remember we were trying to get a light on a balcony, and we couldn’t get through to the people who owned the building. I was with the location people and said, ‘I actually know someone who lives in that building.’”
In off-hours, the team was able to introduce first-time-visitor crewmembers to the city, including field trips to the Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone, and Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar.
“Part of the fun of it was there were crew members who’d never been to New Orleans,” Jay Duplass said. “We were sort of seeing the city through their eyes.”
Even the trips to and from French Quarter filming locations and the crew’s base camp — usually a shuttle journey made in white production vans — became discovery moments for the crew.
“At a certain point, we all just realized, ‘This is, like, seven blocks away, and it’s seven of the best walking blocks you can do in America,’ ” Jay Duplass said. “We started convincing the crew to just walk to the set.”
The Duplass brothers are busy dudes. In addition to “Togetherness,” they’re executive producers on “Animals,” a new animated HBO comedy. They’ve also got a four-movie deal with Netflix. Mark has acted in a variety of projects beyond the brothers’ auteur orbit, most recently FX’s “The League.” Jay has a continuing acting role on Amazon’s “Transparent.”
They’re far from through with the world of film (however their films may be distributed to viewers), but they’ve fallen hard for TV-making, especially for HBO.
“HBO has these wonderful huge shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ to really keep the subscriber base happy,” Mark Duplass said. “We’re easy to get along with, respectful, and a solid group of people watch our show.
“If you’re in independent film right now, that’s actually not enough. The dollars are down and the audience is down. But if you’re part of a subscriber service like HBO, from what we understand from them, that’s enough. That’s extremely comforting.”
“Togetherness” wasn’t a huge Sunday-night hit in its first season, averaging just 370,000 viewers. But the network has assured the brothers that a much larger audience has found the show through digital plays since the season ended. Social-media comments pointed to a surge of binge-watching during the recent holiday season. A writing session to plot stories for a possible third season of “Togetherness” capped the day they were interviewed for this story.
HBO executives “are not total artist-hippies who say, ‘This looks good. Let’s put it on,’ ” Mark Duplass said. “They have a wider sense, a global view, of the whole channel. Even if you’re a little bit niche, you’re fulfilling your part of the pie, and that’s enough.
“They value us and never ask, ‘Why are you not plotting this in a way that will make you like “Game of Thrones?” ’ Instead, they say, ‘You are a special, adult, sweet, funny show that we need on our network. You just be you.’ ”