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Nick Hornby's 'State Of The Union' Is A 10-Minute Dramatic Comedy Inside A Local Pub


The Sundance TV series "State Of The Union" debuts today. It dissects a crumbling marriage. Husband and wife discuss their troubles over the course of 10 episodes, each lasting about 10 minutes in real time. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has this review.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: One of the toughest things any couple can do is try to repair a broken marriage. Sundance TV's dramatic comedy "State Of The Union" depicts that arduous journey in a novel way. Each episode is about 10 minutes long, centered on conversations the couple has at a pub across the street from their therapist's office just before a session begins. Here's how it starts.


CHRIS O'DOWD: (As Tom) You slept with someone else, and now, here we are.

ROSAMUND PIKE: (As Louise) Except there's a bit more to it than that, isn't there? You stopped sleeping with me. I started sleeping with someone else.

O'DOWD: (As Tom) Oh, my God. That's such a short version and quite crude, if you don't mind me saying.

PIKE: (As Louise) See; my version is actually longer than yours.

O'DOWD: (As Tom) My version explains why we're actually here. Yours is just a short, partial version of the long mess that came before.

DEGGANS: Chris O'Dowd is Tom, an out-of-work music critic. Rosamund Pike is his wife, Louise, a doctor who specializes in treating older patients. They're in counselling at Tom's urging because Louise had an affair, and he can't get over it. But he's also feeling weird about exposing their problems to a therapist. And they both have a tendency to get sidetracked when talking about their problems.


O'DOWD: (As Tom) I guess what I'm saying is I just didn't - I didn't think we had the kind of marriage that needed poking around in.

PIKE: (As Louise) Poking around in?

O'DOWD: (As Tom) I suppose it's a medical metaphor.

PIKE: (As Louise) Well, it's quite a good one. If they opened you up and found you riddled with cancer, would you want them to sew you up again?

O'DOWD: (As Tom) Can't it be Ebola?

PIKE: (As Louise) You'd rather have Ebola than cancer?

O'DOWD: (As Tom) This is why I never go to the doctor.

PIKE: (As Louise) Which takes us back to where we started. You see; you don't want to talk to anyone about our marriage. If it dies, you'd rather just find out about it because it collapses on the spot.

O'DOWD: (As Tom) Yes.

DEGGANS: That's right. They went from talking marriage to cancer and Ebola in about 20 seconds. This couple is verbose, occasionally annoying and very British/Irish, but they're back and forth beautifully mirrors the difficulty of getting to the core of problems in a relationship that's lasted 15 years. At times, the limited environment can feel a little contrived, like watching an elaborate acting workshop. But each encounter also brings small, important revelations, like the moment when Louise says they stopped having sex because they were both bored with each other, and Tom corrects her.


O'DOWD: (As Tom) Well, I was never bored, but I did feel humiliated.

PIKE: (As Louise) Humiliated?

O'DOWD: (As Tom) Because I knew. I knew you were bored. I could feel you were bored. There was - there were indications. And so I felt embarrassed because I got knocked back so often.

DEGGANS: Fueled by grounded, authentic performances by O'Dowd and Pike, "State Of The Union" asks compelling questions. Do husbands and wives have to be friends? Can there be love without heat? When is an ailing marriage finally fixed or abandoned? At a time when so much television is about size, the epic battles of "Game Of Thrones" or the bloat of so many Netflix series with so many episodes, it's interesting to see a program that focuses on something much smaller.

Writer-creator Nick Hornby and director Stephen Frears take the long arc of a relationship and pare it down to 10-minute bites. Each episode is only as long as it needs to be to tell each portion of Tom and Louise's story. That's the ultimate promise of an experiment like "State Of The Union" - a compelling story distilled to its essence and delivered in a powerful way that even the most attention-challenged viewer can appreciate. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.