Real Life with Married People

You might be forgiven if, upon first glance, you mistook Real Life with Married People for a web series incarnation of the typical family sitcom. There’s the love-hate dynamic of the charismatic couple, the “fun” family activities that invariably go wrong, even the classic, familiar use of the living room couch as the dominant setting.

Yet, as one grows accustomed to the personality and humor of the show, it doesn’t take long to realize that, even as it appears to lean upon these conventions of the sitcom genre, RLwMP is simultaneously lampooning them with a knowing wink and smile.

Created by Destin Berthelot, Celia Finkelstein, and Deanna Russo (of The Young and the Restless and Knight Rider fame), each episode (so far) is confined to a short scene focusing upon a single topic, resulting in an understated, dialogue-driven show. The humor can at times be sublimely subtle, even to the point of using only the episode’s title to set up the joke – indeed, the defining moments of RLwMP may not be any particular type of joke, but rather the pregnant silences between lines that allow the viewer to see the gears turning for the characters.

Berthelot and Finkelstein, starring as the nameless couple, possess both the chemistry and timing to pull this off, probably thanks in no small part to the fact that they also happen to be married when not in character.

Russo, here making her web directorial debut, builds upon the actors’ near-impeccable timing by extending it to the rest of the show; each episode is exactly as long as it needs to be to make its jokes, sometimes resulting in installments so brief that one almost doesn’t have enough time to settle in register what’s happening before the punchlines go whizzing by.

After watching, it should be clear that Real Life with Married People is not really a sitcom, despite its tongue-in-cheek suggestions otherwise (“This… has been another exciting episode of…”). Its comedy is too clever for the laugh track, its episodes too punchy for prolonged character development.

The show’s central conceit is an understanding with the audience that this is familiar territory. The series achieves a sort of snapshot aesthetic, causing the viewer to raise his or her eyebrows in incredulity before realizing that yes, this is a situation or an interaction that could occur for any couple in America.

The two most recent episodes seem to focus on the ironic disconnect between the staples of a “happy family life” and the way in which those traditions manifest for the modern family: “Chores” is actually about finding creative ways to put off doing chores, while “Date Night” is ludicrously realistic (or perhaps realistically ludicrous) in its depiction of how married couples actually spend their free time together. There’s something particularly entertaining about this direction in the show’s storytelling, suggesting an almost conspiratorial nature to everyday married life.

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