I have never personally been divorced but it seems devastating and tedious and, in a way, darkly enjoyable. This is, appropriately enough, a good way to describe the experience of watching the premiere of Divorce, Sarah Jessica Parker’s new HBO series, which I still can’t decide if I liked.
It’s a draining, dark show, at many points a comedy in runtime only, which stretches for absurdity with a middling rate of success. But it has potential, and it’s beautifully shot, and Sarah Jessica Parker dresses like Carrie if she had ended up with Aiden, which is to say the wardrobe is perfect and I’ll take one of everything, please. It is, if nothing else, a solid half-hour of lifestyle porn—if you mute the sound.
Otherwise it seems like fucking hell. The pilot, which has been streaming on HBO for the last week, introduces us to Frances, played quietly and tensely by Parker, and her husband Robert (Thomas Haden Church), who has a goofy mustache and wears turtlenecks under his suit.
They are not, we learn in the opening scene (which involves a can of Folgers that may or may not contain human feces), the picture of domestic bliss. It doesn’t appear anyone on this show is—Frances and Robert’s friends are all divorced, or really should be.
The bulk of the pilot is spent learning what makes each character awful—and they all are—though some, like Diane (Molly Shannon) announce it right away and others, like Frances, seem okay, at least for the first third. Talia Balsam’s character, the newly divorced Dallas, seems fine, but then again I haven’t seen the second episode.
Diane, wasted at her 50th birthday party, pulls a gun and almost shoots Robert, unintentionally giving her husband a heart attack and setting into motion a series of events that set a bitter tone for the rest of the season.
The elements are all there for a good show. Shannon is a mostly welcome comic relief as the sociopathic, self-unaware Diane; Church is annoyingly endearing as Frances’ well-meaning, frumpy husband; and the Flight of the Concords Jermaine Clement is perfectly cast as Parker’s secret boyfriend.
This episode is one long warning—you may think you know what you want, but you have no idea. One minute you think you want to divorce your stodgy old husband, the next, your charming Australian boyfriend has broken up with you and your family is looking pretty good. We’re all, on some level, totally awful and just a multimillion-dollar house and a beautiful blue coat away from accidentally blowing up our lives on a whim like Frances.
Frances and Robert are going to fucking destroy each other, and they’re going to enjoy it in the way an alcoholic might enjoy getting drunk—which is a lot like watching this show.