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.

Check This Out: IMDb Launches the Top 250 for TV

Scene from Band of Brothers

Over the past decade, there have been few movie internet websites as valuable as IMDb. Short for the Internet Movie Database, the website prides itself on compiling information on every project that has ever had connection to a film or TV series with a voting scale of 1-10 stars to indicate what users think of them. Among the website’s primary features is the Top 250, which compiles the users’ favorite movies. It is an indicator of tastes and trends related to the website. But what about TV and its growing appeal over our downtime? Well, today IMDb launched its Top 250 TV feature that now compiles TV shows similarly to how they do movies. What tops the list? While the Top 5 isn’t likely to surprise you, the rest of the list is full of staggering results.

For majority of the website’s run, the only way to gauge TV series was through fan made lists that did applicable jobs of ranking the more noteworthy/recent series. Of course, TV in general is a lot harder to rank than TV. The quality of episodes can differ rapidly from week to week, season to season, etc. In fact, there’s subdivisions of rating for TV series that separates the episode rankings from the cumulative. So while we’re not looking too much at which show had the highest rated episodes, it is interesting to look at what audiences have been voting on.

As mentioned, the Top 5 isn’t that surprising and feature probably the finest diversity of the bunch with focus on miniseries, documentary series, and two of HBO’s most acclaimed series ever:

Speaking as voting is also partially a popularity contest, it makes sense why Breaking Bad is the highest rated TV series. In 2013, its episode “Ozymandias” held the honor of being one of the few episodes in the website’s history to have a perfect rating (it since has fallen to 9.9/10). Likewise, there’s the HBO flagship series The Wire, which has become considered the best drama series in TV history. And of course, Game of Thrones continues to flourish thanks to continual internet conversation around each season’s controversial stories. If anything, this list is a very admirable top.

But now we get to the heart of something more confounding: where does everything else rank? It is likely that if the show was halfway decent, it made the cut. However, the ranking may be quick to upset some people who take TV seriously. For instance, where does HBO’s other premiere series rank? The Sopranos is at #8, Oz is at #41, Rome is at #42, Deadwood is at #63, Six Feet Under is at #67, Curb Your Enthusiasm is at #90, John Adams is at #99, and Boardwalk Empire is at #114. Meanwhile, shows like Girls, Enlightened, and Treme are just a few that didn’t make the cut.

Just from the order of those things, there may be those quick to complain about the order. Is Oz really better than every almost every other series on HBO? It is speculative. However, it should also help to provide context to shows that all of these have outranked: Futurama is at #121, Parks and Recreation is at #125, The Muppet Show is at #146, Community is at #152, I Love Lucy is at #169, Lost is at #188, and Orange is the New Black at #234. There’s also a few confounding selections, including the high ranking of The Newsroom at #130 or even more recent series like Daredevil at #40. Meanwhile, Mad Men is at #111.

Much like the movie Top 250, this list is probably going to change a lot over the course of its existence. However, it provides an interesting insight into what people are watching and how they rate it. True, there are aspects of this that contradict the general consensus, but it is impressively diverse. The amount of miniseries and documentaries mixed in proves that this list may end up being a valuable tool to assess popularity of each show. Is it perfect? No. Then again, neither is the movie Top 250. However, it makes for an interesting conversation, especially as the recently maligned True Detective season 2 clocks in at #11 on this list – a fact that is mostly due to its first season. It is likely to go down, but how far?

I don’t feel like I have done the website its fair share in simply pointing out where everything ranks. If anything, I mostly do it to show how interesting the results are. While there aren’t as many features yet as the movie version, I am sure that it will all come in time. For now, we have a new feature to one of the internet’s most valuable resources for movie fans. With the growing impact of TV, I can only imagine how more integral the Top 250 TV feature will become as time runs its course.