Whatever your expectations are for Divorce, lower them. One would hope that the new HBO series, created by Sharon Horgan, would be as delightfully funny as Catastrophe, Horgan’s other project currently on air. However, Divorce seems to be devoid of any concrete tone. The new Sarah Jessica Parker starring vehicle has next to nothing beyond tired cliches and profanity.
The show’s focus is Frances, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. After her friend’s 50th birthday party goes off the rails, Frances reevaluates her relationship with her husband, Robert (played by fellow three-namer Thomas Haden Church). Frances, on top of her marriage problems, is having an affair with Julian, and a strained relationship with her children. The pilot tries to naturally introduce us to each of these plot points, but the execution falls flat. It’s not that the content is absolutely terrible – it’s just plain boring. The conflict feels bland, lacking any intrigue or investment. Divorce seems to have settled on its disheartening tone, but not much else feels solid.
It’s also unclear what the audience should be engaged with. Should we want Frances and Robert to work it out, or not? The show doesn’t take a stance on who its protagonists are on a very basic level. Outside of their dissolving marriage, what is there to these characters? Who is it that we should be rooting for? Frances is hard to see as sympathetic, as we learn about her affair with Julian. Meanwhile, Robert feels like an absolute bore, and almost entirely unsympathetic. Even in the final scene of the episode, when he learns about Frances’ affair, nothing feels exciting or interesting. It’s not an interesting narrative, it’s drama for the sake of drama. And, seeing as this is supposedly a comedy, it makes Divorce seem utterly meaningless.
What’s most disappointing about Divorce is the lack of real humor. While Horgan’s other project is delightfully witty, Divorce feels utterly humorless. The episode is fueled more by moody tension than jokes. It feels like Horgan’s primary goal is to make the audience feel like they have to watch a real divorce. It happens, certainly, but why watch it on television? Especially with the lack of humor, it’s hard to say what the draw is. Sex & The City certainly didn’t have such a morose style, and Catastrophe revels in its humor. Why Divorced is so far removed from its parent work is confounding.
Hopefully, what we’ve seen in the pilot is only a fumbled beginning. Maybe this rough beginning is meant to be a subtle metaphor? It would be great to see this series flourish the way Catastrophe has. There’s the potential for strong conflict and dark comedy, we just need to see someone make the effort to unleash it. Divorce needs to settle on a tone and purpose before it can become its best self. Oh, and put more Molly Shannon into it.