It’s been a while since the days of fans going wild for Sarah Jessica Parker in her wildly popular HBO series, but we may be coming full circle. It’s a very different character this time around, and while Divorce is obviously focused in its plot, this is a show that takes a very different look at relationships.
Frances (Parker) is having an affair, and as the show opens, she doesn’t have a lot of positive thoughts about her husband, Robert (Thomas Haden Church). During a party, one of Frances’ closest friends, Diane (Molly Shannon), pulls out a gun and shoots her husband. Traumatic events are often catalysts, and while Robert can only focus on how wonderful it is that he has a good marriage, Frances decides she wants to leave him for her lover. Said lover has no interest in such a scheme, which leaves Frances floundering… until Robert finds out she’s been cheating.
From there, the show becomes a kind of Woody Allen meets black comedy effort, though it’s possibly also on valium, and it’s best feature is that there is no way to tell where it’s going.
The show is driven by an unspoken swirl of emotions and decisions, mostly within Frances, happening in the midst of loudly spoken emotions and decisions, as Frances quickly changes her tune about her marriage. Just taking on this approach – a woman who suddenly wants her marriage back when faced with a lover who isn’t interested in a relationship – is unique and fascinating, and trying to get to the heart of her thoughts is bizarrely entertaining.
Getting a handle on Frances’ effort takes some work, and the audience is left in more or less the same boat as Robert. She says she’s sorry, and wants to do whatever it takes to make their marriage work. Robert is naturally suspicious and uninterested, but so are we, because she might be trying to pull the wool over our eyes as well. What is her game? She just wanted to leave him. Does she just feel stuck? She claims to love him, but she can’t. Can she?
The circumstances are obviously nearly absurd, but these were completely normal-seeming people not long ago, and they may be acting pretty normal now.
Church, who seems to fly under the radar no matter what he does, is a great choice, lending to the show the kind of brutal reality and charm he’s managed from Sideways on. He plays off of Parker in a way that makes it difficult to believe that they haven’t been through the day-to-day relationship they’re portraying, and believe it or not, delivering realistic married people is no easy task.
It’s a show of awkwardness and feeling uncomfortable with what you’re watching, which is always a tough sell when it comes to roping in your audience. Church and Parker manage it, because the show pulls you out of hope and expectation where the couple is concerned, and leaves you to the devices of their individual charm. This sets up the mystery of walking along with them as they hide/figure out/address what they really want, which manages to make divorce interesting.
This spin makes the show by infusing the general topic with the realities that might make it interesting. Divorce is so routine that it’s laughably boring at this point, and instead of being about divorce, the show is about peeling its characters apart. Whether a result of the affair, or the general malaise of having been on the same, lifeless road for decades. Neither Frances nor Robert were especially interested in their marriage, but man are they interested in their divorce.
The show has several slow patches throughout the first few episodes, and it suffers from some good ideas that it isn’t sure how to get to, but overall there’s a lot to love about this one. Mostly, the nearly ridiculous examination of the way people don’t want to admit they are. The main thing you’ll hope for as this one gets a grip on you, is that it go darker, especially as its on HBO.