Imagine Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw a decade older, with two kids, living in upstate New York, and weary of her marriage, having “literally nothing left to say” to Mr. Big — that’s Sarah Jessica Parker in Divorce.
HBO welcomes back one of its first, channel-making stars in this dramedy, created and written by Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan. Divorce shares much in common with that British series — the comedy is dark, the outlook on married life bleak, and the characters flawed and sometimes outright awful. The premiere deftly mixes humor with bitterness and pain and the panic induced by an unsettled future. Here’s the best and worst of Divorce’s pilot:
Parker brought a warmth and earnestness and honesty to her portrayal of Carrie Bradshaw, and she does the same with Frances. From the first image of Frances looking at herself in the mirror, you can read the ennui in her eyes. We’re plunked down right into Frances’s life with her husband, Robert (Thomas Haden Church), their two kids, and their friends. There’s no exposition on why Frances is unhappy, but it’s clear that she is and that it stems largely from being sick of her husband.
A crazy situation (more on that later) brings about an epiphany for Frances: She wants a divorce. Robert is shocked and saddened, and begs her to go to couples counseling. But it turns out Frances has a parachute — a lover in the form of a granola-making professor named Julian (Jemaine Clement). Only that parachute isn’t quite the life-changer that Frances hoped it would be, because Julian is a selfish jerk. Then again, everyone on the show is, in their own way. And that you want to know more about them is a testament to Horgan’s writing.
The performances by all of the actors are top-notch; Church, in particular, deserves a shout-out for his sly, hilarious take on the passive-aggressive, pompous Robert. Molly Shannon shines as Frances’s friend, Diane. And hopefully, this isn’t the last we see of man-child Julian, because Clement is just too good.
What Needs Work
Tonally, sometimes Divorce can be a bit of a mishmash. Characters like Julian and Diane are more broadly comedic, while Parker plays Frances more cool and straight.
Also, as great as Church is in the premiere, it’s more obviously Frances’s story, and Robert is not as deeply sketched. He has an amusing monologue about how he’s the hero and Frances is the villain in their movie, and it makes you realize that we don’t know much about him yet. While she gets solo scenes, he does not, which — fingers crossed — future episodes rectify.
And that crazy situation mentioned above happens at Diane’s 50th birthday party, when the birthday girl brandishes a gun. It was a little outrageous and silly. Sure, something had to set off Frances’s desire to get a divorce, but we hope that such wackiness is confined to this event.
Our Burning Questions: What will Frances and Robert’s kids think about their divorce? Will Diane’s husband want to divorce her after he wakes up from his heart attack? Where do these people live, because wow — beautiful homes? Is Julian actually maybe a little crazy, because what New Yorker gets Hawaiian pizza?
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Divorce airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.