Channel Surfing: Divorce – “Pilot”

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Scene from Divorce

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.

It has been awhile since HBO has done business with Sarah Jessica Parker, at least on the small screen. Following the groundbreaking comedy Sex and the City, Parker has had a bit of a lull in her career; never quite matching the heights of Carrie Bradshaw’s sex advice-giving writer. She returns to the network with a drama centered around something that likely would’ve faced Miss Bradshaw by now: Divorce. The first episode hits all of the marks in setting up the inevitable fallout between her Frances character and husband Robert (Thomas Haden Church). It may be billed as a comedy, but most of the first episode seems to fall into the melancholic middle ground that is bittersweet as well.

The story focuses around the dysfunction that forms when a party gets out of hand. Host Diane (Molly Shannon) begins yelling at her husband, demanding a divorce. It causes quite the scene, echoing through their fancy home and upsetting a fair majority of the guests. The moment is given levity as Frances and Robert come to terms with their big anomaly. Where Robert believed that watching other people fight would bring them closer, it made Frances believe the opposite. She has been miserable for some time, and seeks to strike out on her own while she’s still young enough to stand a chance.

Divorce hits a demographic that isn’t often covered by HBO. While Togetherness came close with 30-something parents, the sight of watching Frances and Robert realize their misery together makes for a conflict that likely bothers many in their later years. They’re no longer young and full of optimism. They know the game and are worried about anything that could mark an eternity of misery. The first episode, set to an alternative pop soundtrack, manages to find a balance between humor and insular speculation. It hits the discomfort hard, leaving concern for where the remaining show goes. Now that the miserable part is over, what will lie in store for Frances and Robert?

While tonally different, the show does share a similar basis with Grace & Frankie: a show that explores the life after divorce in old age. The show fell more on the broad comedy side of the spectrum, but found a nice balance of emotion alongside the awkward desire to love and have a viable sex life. The only difference is that Parker has yet to proven herself as charismatic as Jane Fonda or Lily Tomlin. Maybe it’s not what the show is going for, but a sidekick would definitely help to make the show more interesting. Maybe it’s Molly Shannon. Maybe it’s someone we haven’t seen yet. Divorce has promise to be a more conventional HBO comedy with the free form melancholic comedy that seems so popular in a post-Louie world. Then again, there are moments that play like Sex and the City voice-over, directing the audience how to feel. It may be unintentional, but it does show how pigeonholed Parker’s reputation has become.

The first episode is very engaging and likely will appeal to an older demographic who knows the pains of divorce. The show definitely has a maturity about the subject so far that makes the comedy seem secondary. Even then, there’s potential for the show to expand and find new territory to mine for enlightenment in older age. What can be experienced when divorce frees you of a spouse that was holding you back? The pilot does plenty to fill in the bitter gaps. Now it’s time to see if the show will do anything with their new found freedom.

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