Season 1 of HBO’s Divorce takes place in the winter, with a snowy, suffocating backdrop that mirrors the demise of Robert (Thomas Haden Church) and Frances’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) marriage. Anyone who’s been through a Northeastern winter knows how desperate you are to get out of it, kind of like a bad relationship.
In Season 2 of the series, it’s literally a new season (spring) and a new showrunner, Jenny Bicks, whose credits include Sex and the City and co-writing the screenplay for Golden Globe-winner The Greatest Showman. Bicks was tasked with diffusing quite the bomb from the end of the first season, when Robert calls the cops on Frances for taking their kids and violating a divorce court order.
“I wanted it to be the calm after the storm,” said Bicks. “I wanted to bring more hope and joy and possibility to the second season, taking nothing away from the first season. I just wanted to play with the aftermath.”
She also wanted to call the bluffs of these characters. “It’s very easy when you go through a break-up or divorce, you can always blame the other person for everything you didn’t achieve. When you’re left by yourself, now it’s up to you. You have to make your own happiness and future. For both of these characters, I wanted to explore this idea.”
The new season picks up about a month after the events of the first. While Robert was the one blindsided in Season 1, the tables have turned in Season 2.
“I think what we intended was for Frances to be surprised by a lot of the emotions coming up for her, now that she’s divorced. She thought in some ways it would be easier. I don’t think Robert thought that. But I think Frances thought, ‘Once this is done, it’s all gonna be OK.’ And that’s what we play with a little bit in the first episode of the second season [titled ‘Night Moves’]. The idea [that] if I just get the house back together, I’m gonna be fine.”
But just as we watch these characters come apart, we also learn more about what made them like each other to begin with.
“For both of them, now that they’re apart, they can start to see what they liked about each other. When we meet them the first season, they so don’t enjoy each other. I was interested as a viewer. How did they get together? It doesn’t mean bring them back together as a couple, but I was really curious who they were and could we find some of that again as they start to separate.”
Another thing that was exciting for Bicks in Season 2 was to reunite with Sarah Jessica Parker, with whom she worked on Sex and the City.
“We’ve known each other a long time and she’s evolved so much as an actor. Obviously she’s way more involved in this show than she was on Sex and the City, only in as much as she’s an executive producer and star of this show. This is much more of her baby. I was really impressed with how much she cared about every aspect of production.”
Bicks also remarked about Parker’s attention to detail.
“She knows her character so well; she is the continuity between the first and the second season. She has a great memory for specific things the character has said, that tell us something about them. That’s very useful as collaborators.”
Coming in as a new showrunner in Season 2, Bicks was challenged to stay true to last season’s characters, something made easier by their distinct voices. “Thankfully, there was a really strong road map for who they were and how they sound and how they think.”
Bicks wrote the first episode of the season, “Night Moves,” which involves Frances purchasing a trampoline to try to appease her jaded kids (she and Robert must be obsessed with childhood amusement, since last season Robert proposed the business idea of Fun Zone). Throughout the new season, the trampoline becomes a metaphor. “I wanted to introduce that in that first episode as this object, the simplicity she thought it would bring in terms of happiness. It was going to be the thing that allowed her to feel light and bright and feel like she’s figuratively and literally jumping into her future.”
Bicks also wrote the season finale, titled “Alone Again, Naturally,” which takes its name from the Gilbert O’Sullivan song that would fit perfectly on the show’s ’70s adult-contempo soundtrack (though it doesn’t appear in the new season). Songs featured this season include “The Things We Do For Love” by 10cc, “No Matter What” by Badfinger, and “Shambala” by Three Dog Night.
“Our music supervisor Michael Hill is fantastic about presenting me with 20 choices of great songs. What’s great is that I love ‘70s music, so I actually know a lot of these songs. It’s not a world where it’s hip-hop and I don’t know. He would suggest stuff. SJ would suggest stuff. Especially for our final songs, we would spend a lot of time watching film and listening to different pieces of music over it and getting the right feel. We all knew we wanted that very specific ‘70s music, so not hard rock. It’s this kind of pop rock ‘70s, but really earthy and great. And our editors are also great at suggesting stuff. It’s fun. I love working with music that I love listening to anyway.”
While the soundtrack conjures up nostalgia for the past, do New Robert and New Frances have a future together?
“I would never write this show towards that, because I think that would be a huge mistake. I think that’s giving up on the premise that divorce is an OK thing. I think you wouldn’t be telling the truth in the promise of your title. I would never shut the door on it, but I would never write to it.”
HBO’s Divorce 8-episode Season 2 starts Sunday, January 14 at 10 p.m. ET.