Sarah Jessica Parker is already a lot of women's spirit animal when it comes to the search for love. Her career-defining turn as New York's favorite single lady, Carrie Bradshaw, was a rollercoaster of courtship unparalleled in modern storytelling.
And now, she's at it again. Only this time, as Frances in HBO's newest "dramedy" Divorce, SJP is on the other side of love. The older, more bitter, DIVORCED side of it.
While Carrie and Frances are different people and Divorce and Sex and the City are very different beasts, it's still possible to see a through-line here, from 30-something-city-based-single to very-late-40s-upstate-suburban-mom-of-teens.
This is what Carrie Bradshaw might have become, had she married Aidan and moved to the suburbs. In some ways it answers the question of why did Carrie choose Big and not Aidan in the first place.
But enough about Sex and the City.
SJP is surely sick of the comparisons, and the two shows have little in common aside from their lead—and the exploration of what women want, and how they look for it.
Divorce, created and co-written by Catastrophe's Sharon Horgan, begins with a 50th birthday party for Frances' friend Diane (Molly Shannon). The party has a decidedly downbeat vibe, and disintegrates as the night goes on, culminating in a drunk Diane brandishing her husband's gun, accidentally firing, and causing her husband to have a heart attack.
Afterwards, while police attend the scene and Diane is carted off in handcuffs, Frances decides she doesn't want to be married anymore and calls it quits with her surprised husband Robert (Thomas Haden Church).
That conversation, as they sit at the table in their friend's house surrounded by the carnage, is a high point in the series' first episode.
In it, Frances tells Robert she wants to change her life while she still cares what happens. We understand her, but can also see how this may have blindsided him.
It is a darkly funny moment, only made better by the way Robert reacts to the news.
From there, it has to be said, much of what happens to Frances and Robert is kind of predictable. Frances wakes the next day resolved to leave, but we find out a lot of that resolve comes from the security she feels having someone to fall back on romantically.
Her lover, Julian (played with deadpan un-sexiness by Jemaine Clement) isn't interested in being a more full-time manfriend. Shaken, Frances begins to waiver.
But it's too late to go back.
Divorce focuses around small concept. It appears to be most interested in the question of what happens when a marriage ends and not larger questions about love, society, or growing older. Maybe that will come with time, but early reviews for the full season indicate the stakes are small, and are focused solely on the dissolution of one marriage.
It might work really well. But there's the possibility it might become tedious.
For starters, the couple's two children seem like comic foils or simple props for exposition. They don't really add anything to the family dynamic or the adult characters. The only person we really get to know in the pilot is Frances, and even then it's not clear at any moment what her ultimate plan is.
Maybe that's the point. Maybe not knowing what Frances wants, just knowing that it's something else, is what's important here.
SJP does a good job with Frances. She's unlikable in all the right ways, but just likable enough to keep you caring about what happens to her.
Church, playing Robert, doesn't do as well, and it doesn't help that he's framed as both villain and victim in the series opener without really getting his perspective aired on anything.
All in all so far though, Divorce has the potential to be an engaging, well-thought-through character drama.
Set aside your Sunday night for a smart peek at someone else's misery. We all know a little bit of (fictional!) schadenfreude can be a wonderful thing.
Divorce airs Sunday nights at 10p.m. on HBO, and is also available on HBOGo.