Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce Review
Bravo‘s first foray into original programming, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, is, for good or ill, possibly the safest bet in the history of television. It will probably sound a bit like an insurmountable negative, but the show seems almost to have been created by compiling information from a series of Facebook polls delivered to Bravo‘s target demographic.
Leaving aside the fact that we don’t want to include marital status in our ratings information, the show’s bullet points feel more like a wishlist than a synopsis. Snarky women in a position to do a lot of man-bashing while drinking a lot of wine. Check. Less than fantastically attractive men who act stupid, immature, and generally in such a way that we can refer to them with the pejorative version of “men.” Check. Fantastically attractive men that we can “move on to.” Check. Women in powerful and/or bread-winning roles so that we can look up to them, but make a mess of things so that we can relate. Check.
As I said, that probably sounds hopelessly negative, and at best it probably ought to mean that you should go into the show with your eyes wide open, but the reason I kick off with a list of the odd-feeling demographic candy the show offers up is that it pushes past it all surprisingly well. It’s best move is that Lisa Edelstein‘s character plays with the House nostalgia by never being absolutely likable.
We enter the show with Abby McCarthy (Edelstein), a successful author of self-help books, clinging to the last shreds of her marriage, just as her Girlfriends’ Guide book on marriage is about to be released. She’s technically separated from her husband Jake (Paul Adelstein), but they are keeping up appearances for the sake of the kids, and to give them a chance to work things out, despite the fact that neither of them have a lot of hope.
As we watch the final stages leading to divorce blossom into a fantastic meltdown, Abby tries to keep up appearances for the sake of her book, with a tour coming up, but the sudden surge in time that she spends in public with her newly divorced friends – Lyla (Janeane Garofalo) and Phoebe (Beau Garrett) – opens the door for a lot of gossip. As it becomes more and more apparent that Abby is going to have to deal with her new lot in life, she has to explain things to her brother (Patrick Heusinger), who she’s been avoiding for just that reason, and she’s going to have to figure out how to keep selling books. That last one goes fantastically awry when Abby is a little too free with her thoughts.
Confident that you know where we’re headed by having heard the title, the show is now free to spin us down the road that, we must assume, will ultimately lead to Abby learning a lot of lessons about divorce, and bringing to all the highs and lows inherent therein that same perspective that made you fall in love with her earlier books, and her. Or, something like that.
The show may opt for too easy a way out of reality when it comes to some of the men, who are either too far to the side of odd jerk to truly be targets worth swinging at, or are a bit too “yummy” to be viable candidates for… non-calendar-posing activities of any kind. That said, with the lengths the show goes to when it comes to building clever responses to situations that are all-too-familiar, and characters that shouldn’t be able to tear themselves another dimension, it becomes largely forgivable when the show want to give us some of the easier pieces by way of hyperbole.
There are countless ways this show could aim, just with what you know already, and there are even more when you realize that we could easily play too hard for the laughs with Garofalo’s ex’s dominatrix, or Garrett’s “drunk lezzie” tendancies, but the show dodges them all, and instead tries to scratch out its own “everyone’s a mess, especially the self-help guru” place in the world, without benefit of a genre it can legitimately hang its hat on. It isn’t funny, though it’s comedic at times. It isn’t dramatic, in any sense that you can expect to get simply because it labels itself so. It isn’t even the shmaltzy affair you might expect from both the outline the show establishes before you watch it, or the fact that Abby’s gay brother seems oddly disposed to try shaming his sister into staying married.
Instead, much like many of the most popular books that compete with Abby for shelf-space, it is an effort to make the most reality out of the surprisingly unreal circumstances that make up virtually everyone’s life. As with most television shows, the characters may seem outrageously quick with their retorts, but here they actually say things people you know might actually say.
As much as no network is likely to hope for comparisons to other networks, this is a show that feels for all the world like Bravo snatched it away from USA, and that’s a compliment.