SPOILER ALERT: The pilot episode is discussed in length here.
I didn't think twice about my decision to watch HBO's new original series, Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Sex and the City is still one of my all-time favorite shows so I was particularly interested in seeing Parker's return to the cable network. I had a feeling that the material was going to be good.
And it was...very good.
The story revolves around a modern, successful woman, Frances, played by Parker. She has what our modern society deems the evidence needed to have it all. She's married with two healthy teenage kids, a son and a daughter. She has a seemingly (I say seemingly due to the fact we didn't get to see her in action because she plays hooky) successful career. She has the house. She has the looks and the clothes. She even has great, albeit slightly unhinged, friends.
Yet, she's unhappy.
Her connection with her husband, Robert, played by Thomas Haden Church is clearly the missing link, illustrated by the middle finger she gives him behind his back within the opening scene. A scene that 99% of married couples can identify with - a disagreement involving bathroom etiquette.
But it wasn't until we meet Molly Shannon's character, Frances' friend, Diane, and attend her 50th birthday party that the word 'divorce' makes an appearance. Diane's marriage to Nick, played by Tracy Letts, is filled with mutual disgust and disrespect for the other spouse. Rude comments, sarcastic jabs and passive aggressive put downs fly freely between them until drunken Diane takes it a bit too far by taking out a handgun. She shoots a lamp on accident and manages to give her husband a serious heart attack.
Witnessing the whole thing, Frances freaks out about what she has seen between her friend and husband. Initially, Robert believes she's upset about him nearly losing his life, having been less than a foot away from the ill-fated lamp when the gun went off. But being confronted with the frailty of life didn't make Frances scared of losing Robert but instead prompts her to ask him for a divorce.
She declares that she doesn't love him anymore and wants out while she cares enough about her life to do something about it. He's so shocked by it that he immediately throws up his fondue. Although it's hard to imagine that he didn't see it coming, it's easy to believe.
And Frances sticks to her guns about it despite Robert's only solution - sex. She, of course, isn't interested and is clearly past the point where sex can solve anything.
And we believe her until...
Our heroine plays hooky from work to have sex with her lover, Julian - a Columbia University professor with a penchant for granola and having 'dirty secret sex' with a married woman with children.
Her friend, Dallas, played by Talia Balsam, warns her over the perils of divorce during the train ride over to his place. Frances may very well end up alone because there are slim pickings out in the single world. But Frances isn't worried because she admits she may be in love with Julian.
Interestingly, Frances finds out quickly she's been confusing great sex for love when Julian freaks out by her recent decision to divorce Robert and her request to stay with him for a few days.
This causes Frances to backpedal on her decision and instead, attempts to rekindle her marriage, excusing her behavior as temporary shock from her friend's fight. Although I was bummed (kind of the same way I was bummed when Carrie didn't send Mr. Big packing in the finale after all his years of indecisive BS in Sex in the City) that she lost courage to go through the divorce, it was believable that she would question her decision. After all, divorce is a big deal.
And for a moment, we think that maybe this couple has a chance.
Until Robert rightly suspects France's mysterious phone call from "J" is the real catalyst for her out-of-the-blue divorce request, calls the number back to learn that she's been having a year-long affair and now wants his own divorce, successfully locking her out of the house.
I have to say despite the sour subject matter, I really enjoyed watching this story. Each actor was able to portray their character's marital woes in a grounded way; yet, with a lightness that made it easily digestible.
I also loved how the story was thought provoking...
Does complacency play a role in every long-term relationship?
Does the length of a marriage mean more to us than the quality of it?
What does a happy marriage even look like?
Many people will relate to Frances' plight of not knowing where the line is between a marriage going through normal ups and downs and one where it's truly time to move on because happiness between these now two different people is no longer achievable. After all, there are so many opinions about marriage and what it should or should not be, the confusion is easy to understand.
Besides tapping into all these thought-provoking questions about marriage, Divorce, being about a topic often ignored, with so much of our attention placed on the happier act of two people falling in love, makes for a show that feels very unique and personal. It basically promises an engaging and honest sneak peak into this couple's darkest moment. And like the nosy neighbor next door, I'm looking forward to finding out how it all unfolds.