Divorce, the series, which premiered Sunday Oct. 9 on the premium cable channel HBO, follows Frances (played by Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City fame) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) and their road to divorce. It’s a humorous and painful road that includes saying and doing all of the things the pair didn’t say and do when they were trying to make it work. Frances and Robert are so mean to each other at times that it will likely make you wince—at least that was my reaction—and the two don’t start treating each other better until the third episode. (HBO screened the first six last week for TV critics.)
For Parker, who is also an executive producer on the series, Divorce is an extension of Sex and the City, even though the characters and their worlds are completely different. Where that show celebrated dating, the single life and finding the “one” in the big city, Divorce takes a caustically comedic look at matrimony when people and their needs change within a marriage.
“The reason that I was so interested in this landscape, and I think all of us are, is because there’s so much to say about this period in a life, this attempt at divorce,” said Parker, who is married to actor Matthew Broderick. “There are things that are hilarious and devastating and disappointing, and people make bad choices and listen to bad counsel. They’re their own bad counsel.
“There’s a lot that’s not been said and portrayed or illustrated in television about a real family like this, who are living at a particular time, economically, emotionally, you know, where they find themselves,” Parker added. “There’s so much, and some of it seems impossible to imagine that’s real. All of it is what we’ve heard people speak of and share with us. Then smart writers kind of put it together in a way that seems fictional.”
On top of the anger and betrayal the two grapple with, Frances and Robert struggle with how and when to tell their son and daughter, and how to shield their kids from their acrimony. The couple’s constant consideration for their kids is the comedy’s most redeeming quality, and also most in line with the collaborative approach Splitopia.com emphasizes.
“The children, to me, kind of represent a bit of a centrifuge, which sounds contradictory, but as you’re fragmenting, they’re there in the middle to keep you together,” Haden Church said during a recent Television Critics Association panel. “And that was the thing that I thought was so organic and enjoyable; her and I trying to hold up this. I really used my observations of a lot of people that I know trying to do the same thing. That was one of the key dynamics of keeping it authentic and believable.”
Sharon Horgan, whose credits include the Amazon series Catastrophe, created Divorce and said that while she’s happily married, she did include a few instances from her personal life. Paul Simms, who works as a writer and second show runner, or executive producer, on the series said he did the same.
“There’s a little bit of fantasy wish fulfillment,” Simms said, “in that, when you meet this couple at such a tense, bad time, it allows them to say all the things to each other that they might not say if they were still trying to keep the marriage together.”
This includes a quip about Robert’s mustache. Meanwhile, Frances and Robert’s friends, played by Molly Shannon and Tracy Letts, are also going through a rough patch in their marriage and say even more dreadful and hurtful things to and about each other.
Mekeisha Madden Tobby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic and journalist. The Detroit Native has been a journalist since 1999, writing for outlets such as Essence, MSN TV, The Detroit News, The Wrap, TV Guide, CNN.com, Playboy.com, People Magazine, Us Weekly, The Seattle Times, San Fransisco Chronicle, and Minneapolis Star Tribune.