The first season of Divorce wasn’t exactly a pop-culture phenomenon — indeed, I may have to remind you that this is the Sunday-night HBO sitcom that’s not Issa Rae’s Insecure, but rather the one from Sarah Jessica Parker — and it’s a show that elicits strong feelings. As in, some people find it unfunny and depressing, while others identify with it intensely. Me, I probably wouldn’t have watched every single episode after the first few had my wife not gotten hooked on it, but by the end — Sunday night’s finale, titled “Détente” — I was glad I had stuck with it, because this season-ender contained more of what the whole series should have had, and pointed Divorce in a new direction for Season 2.
The slow, painful process of the dissolution of the marriage of Frances (Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church) reached a turning point — a twisty, turny turning point. I’d been startled by Frances’s late-in-the-season switch in divorce lawyers — from Jeffrey DeMunn’s stroke-impaired eccentric to the ferocious, no-nonsense type played by Rectify’s J. Smith-Cameron. It almost seemed as though show creator Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) decided to do some hasty, last-minute rearranging of the cast and narrative.
In any case, Frances’s new lawyer (as wonderful an actor as DeMunn is, Smith-Cameron is just as great) froze Robert’s assets, putting in peril the launch of Fun Space, his new business. We expected Robert to go ballistic on Frances when he arrived at the party for the opening of her gallery, but instead they shared a quiet, tender moment together — they even kissed. He wanted to give her a chance to own up to this new tactic in their divorce proceedings, but she lets the affection of the moment play out.
Which, in turn, played out poorly for Frances. In the closing moments of the episode, while Frances is driving their two children to a ski weekend, Robert makes a call that puts the police on Frances’s tail. She’s pulled over for taking the children on a weekend that was supposed to be Robert’s, according to their custody agreement — we know Robert had said that was OK, but it doesn’t carry legal weight, and this is his small revenge. She screwed him over on Fun Space; now he’s going to screw her over on the terms of custody, to the point of possible arrest.
This hardball tactic gives Divorce some much-needed oomph as it wraps up its first season and rolls forward into its second. The show has suffered in comparison to Insecure, from the now-Golden-Globe-nominated Rae, because the latter’s show, funnier and edgier, feels like, as some have noted, the new Sex and the City.
Creator Horgan, writer-producer Paul Simms, and star-producer Parker took a bold chance in making Frances and Robert so disdainfully well-to-do, so self-absorbed, so glum. Divorce worked better if you thought of it as a half-hour drama rather than a curdled comedy. The finale set up a potentially more exciting second season: a show in which the emotional stakes will be higher, and with more opportunities for the kind of savage humor the series clearly wants to deliver. Best of luck to all in making that happen when Divorce returns.
Divorce Season 1 can be streamed now on HBOGo or HBO on Demand.