Sometimes an actor can be so successful in a role that it makes it nigh on impossible for us to imagine them in anything else.
Divorce marks Sarah Jessica Parker’s first series lead since her six seasons as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. The 1990s HBO drama was the quintessential girl power series in which Carrie was constantly pursuing the perfect romance. Now Parker is back as Frances, a woman on the downside of marriage, as the title indicates.
The challenge for us all is to not see these as before / after counterpoints but to come to Divorce with a clean slate.
Frances is married to Robert (Thomas Haden Church) who, along with most of their fifty-something friends, leads an affluent life in a big, airy home where routine leads to complacency, the mundane is magnified, and boredom is but a heartbeat away.
It’s at a birthday party for pal Diane (Molly Shannon) that Frances witnesses a high-strung incident which causes her to re-evaluate her suburban existence.
“I want to save my life while I still care about it. I don’t love you anymore,” she tells Robert. “I want a divorce.”
But as we soon learn Frances is also having an affair with a local professor, Julian (Jemaine Clement), which turns Robert from sad sack hubby to innocent party, and challenges our sympathies for the central character.
Robert turns on Frances, setting in motion the series conflict.
“That sneaky, easy, friendly (divorce) you wanted? You can forget it,” he yells. “I’m going to make your children hate you.”
Yes, there are two teenage children -Lila (Sterling Jerins) and Tom (Charlie Kilgore)- at the centre of this family. And in the snowy, allegorical winter that surrounds this New York home, they are about to become pawns without even realising it.
None of this sounds like material for a comedy, and in truth this bears far more drama than humour, but at just 30 minutes an episode it is no doubt pitching at similar territory as Nurse Jackie, Transparent, The Big C and Girls -indeed some of these very talkative women could be Girls grown up.
Writer Sharon Hogan (Catastrophe) brings considerable nuance to this universe, directed by Jesse Peretz (Girls and Nurse Jackie are amongst his credits). The soundtrack draws upon adult contemporary songs, including everything from Coldplay to the Little River Band.
Parker is inviting as the central character in a role that skates closer to anti-hero than her previous work whilst Thomas Haden Church is abrasive as the spurned partner. While this is less complex than The Affair, there’s plenty of fireworks between the two leads. But with its ominous title, it will be a challenge for Divorce to find the joy that brought us back to Carrie Bradshaw week after week.
That said, this is a promising start for Sarah Jessica Parker given the need to move beyond her CV, and half hour episodes are enough to ensure this doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Divorce premieres 8:30pm Wednesday on Showcase.