Stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church make Divorce one worth enduring
You wouldn’t think that the topic of divorce would lend itself to genuine laughs in a comedy. There have been situations in movies and on television where squabbling is definitely amusing or a couple tries to one up the other and it can lead to some funny moments. Breaking up with someone is, at the core, a painful and awkward process. HBO’s new comedy, bluntly titled Divorce, proves that while emotions can get in the way, sometimes the best thing to do in this situation is laugh. The show gets off to a strong start thanks to the chemistry between stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church.
Parker and Church play Frances and Robert, a married couple with two kids, and things could be better. The first image we see is Frances gazing at herself in the bathroom mirror. Robert walks in and she clearly has no desire to talk or interact with him (even though he tells her that he took a dump in a coffee can because she’s been commandeering the bathroom for so long), so the show indicates the dark and humorous tone from the very beginning. In the pilot, they attend the 50th birthday party for their friend Diane (a broad Molly Shannon), and her marriage to Nick (an always welcome Tracy Letts) isn’t that great either. When Nick offers them a drink, he says, “I’d offer you wine, but Diane has sucked it all up.” Welcome to the party!
A dramatic incident at Diane’s party leads Frances to quickly evaluate her marriage, and she comes to the conclusion that she’s no longer happy with Robert–she asks for a divorce before the party is cleaned up. Indiscretions are discovered, and soon the claws are really out. One of the best things about Divorce is seeing how Parker and Church go at each other. Robert changes the locks so she can’t get back in, but she shuts down to him. As this show gets reviewed and talked about it’s very likely that Parker’s quieter performance will be compared to her iconic Carrie Bradshaw. Sex and the City was part if the first Golden Age of HBO, but Frances is so much stiller and internal than anything we’ve ever seen her play before.
It’s easier for people to side with Robert because of how loose and fun he is, and Church is so strong in this show. While he is very charming, Church’s Robert acts like a little boy when he’s hurt. They way he lashes out is reminiscent of how a teenager would react when his girlfriend breaks up with him. In one later episode (HBO provided 6 of the first season’s 10 episodes), Robert takes the blame for something in front of Frances’ parents so they won’t think less of her. It’s moments like these that remind us how complicated marriage and relationships are.
Could the show be lighter? Probably. There’s a lot of pain on display on Divorce, and creator Sharon Horgan is most known for her work on Catastrophe (she was Emmy `nominated for writing this year). That show succeeds on a different level because Catastrophe is broader and brighter. Her first show focuses on how a relationship unexpectedly begins and both people want to participate and make it work but both Frances and Robert both have seen the dead end and can’t find a way out (do they want a way out?).
While a serious subject, Divorce features some great dark laughs. Parker can make a dig cut deep and she’s joined by a game Molly Shannon and a droll Talia Balsam. If anything, Church should be checked off as one of the funniest leading men in a new comedy. If Frances and Robert can’t make it work, I’ll gladly keep Robert company.
Divorce premieres on HBO on Sunday, October 9 at 10:00 p.m. EST. The pilot episode is available for streaming now on HBO GO and HBO NOW.