Ending a relationship or breaking up a marriage can never be easy. After struggling for years to make it work on Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker is back on HBO with a bleak and bitter epilogue, Divorce.
Created by Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan, Divorce finds Parker in the suburbs of New York City. She has two kids, a couple of chronically unhappy friends, a job as a headhunter, dreams of owing an art gallery, and a real-estate developer husband she has nothing to say to.
A far cry from Carrie Bradshaw, Divorce’s Frances Dufresne (Sarah Jessica Parker) wants a divorce. Married to Robert (Thomas Haden Church) for 17 years, Frances tells her husband that she wants to save her life while she still cares about it. This realisation dawns upon her after a chaotic birthday party turns into a scene of gun violence, causing one of their friends to have a cardiac arrest. She tells Robert, in many hurtful words, that she wants to have nothing to do with him anymore.
But as she takes the train to her workplace, Frances’s glorious cathartic moment dissolves into the murkiness of the affair she has been having – the real cause of the divorce. Unfortunately, by the time she separates the concept of love from lust, Robert finds out about Julian, Frances’s granola making associate professor at Columbia University.
Finding humour in what ought to be deeply painful, Horgan and Parker (who is also the executive producer for the series) are telling a new and often glossed over story of what makes a marriage fall apart. We all root for happily ever after, but no part of the initial episodes make it seem like Robert and Frances belong together. It is hard to imagine what brought them together in the first place. This clearly isn’t a love story. It is the hilarity that follows when two middle-aged parents keep scores and make sure that their kids don’t find out. None of the characters is particularly likable. Even Frances’s friends, Diane (Molly Shannon) and Dallas (Talia Balsam) are bitter and miserable, and they are far removed from the on-call support-system of Carrie Bradshaw.
The casting is impeccable. Parker was not looking to play the lead role herself, but it is good that she did. Playing off perfectly against Haden Church’s Robert, who talks about flipping properties and finances over fondue, the two fail to make a case for staying together. The comedic but undeniably vicious antipathy they display towards each other in conversations with other characters and in their treatment of each other dares to highlight the honest and often hard-hitting reality of divorce. Robert tells Frances that he will ensure the kids hate her, while she is advised by her friends to destroy him before he destroys her.
Horgan isn’t new to talking about the uncomfortable truths behind marriage, sex and relationships. Her debut series, the British Emmy-nominated comedy Catastrophe, tells the story of a couple that decides to get married when they end up pregnant after a week of hooking up. Plot wise, Divorce is diametrically opposite.
The series has opened to mixed reviews, but it seems to be working its way towards something endearing. Considering the series has Parker at the helm, it is hard to imagine that the series will continue in this vein of black pitiless comedy. Viewers may find themselves waiting for a Carrie Bradshaw monologue about life and love. But if one goes by the proven genius of Horgan and Catastrophe, what lies ahead is probably a blatant depiction of the heartlessness of a divorce, not softened by the popcorn-ness of American TV dramas, but made stronger by blunt British comedy.