When you name a series “Divorce,” you’re facing an uphill battle, no matter what.
Sure, “Sex and the City’s” Sarah Jessica Parker is the star, but this seems like the wrong turn Carrie Bradshaw took by marrying Big.
In the new HBO comedy, Parker plays a Kennedy-esque New Yorker who tells her husband (Thomas Haden Church) she wants out of their marriage.
He’s unhinged and uncertain where to turn.
Her best friend (Molly Shannon), meanwhile, dukes it out with her husband (Tracy Letts) at a party that has as much promise as a night with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Unbeknownst to Church’s Robert, there’s someone else in the picture.
And that’s where “Divorce” edges into “The Affair’s” territory.
Shannon aside, much of “Divorce” is deadly serious. Parker’s Frances mopes around her well-appointed home and can’t quite make us feel an ounce of sympathy. When she spends the night with her paramour (you’ll be surprised to see who it is), we don’t sense any joy or relief.
"Divorce," in fact, is like an Ingmar Bergman drama, complete with lingering looks out windows and deadly patches of silence.
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Church sees that it’s a comedy and isn’t afraid to go for the laugh. But Parker isn’t quite ready to find the funny.
Created by Sharon Horgan, who knows how to get a laugh out of an uncomfortable situation (she’s one of the creators and stars of “Catastrophe”), “Divorce” is just as stranded as its characters.
Sure, it’s in a half-hour format, but it doesn’t have any pretensions to escape. Tig Notaro’s dramedy, “One Mississippi,” at least finds the funny in irony. “Divorce” only gets that when Shannon shows up and entertains. Like Church, she understands what’s needed. Sadly, neither gets much buy-in.
If the series goes beyond its initial 10-episode run, it’s going to need more to mine.
“Sex and the City” had a rich tapestry of characters. Like Shannon’s Diane, they could divert at some of the darkest, deepest moments.
Starting with the “I want a divorce” announcement, Horgan doesn’t give the audience much to gnaw on. There are hints, but showing the couple uncoupling could have been a better approach.
Still dressing to impress Anna Wintour, Parker’s character needs more, too. She has the hint of independence wafting in the pilot but much of “Divorce” comes down to this: Do you really want to watch five hours of a couple splitting?
The answer is no. It's not pleasant in real life. It certainly can’t be entertaining in 30-minute doses.
“Divorce” airs at 9 p.m. Oct. 9 on HBO.