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What HBO’s DIVORCE Tells Us About Marriage

By on November 28, 2016

What HBO’s Divorce Tells Us About Marriage

The new HBO series Divorce – created by British Emmy nominee writer Sharon Horgan – debuted on October 9th and with seven episodes down the line, three of which were directed by Jesse Peretz of Girls fame, fans already have much to discuss (SPOILER ALERT!).

As a matter of fact, right from the show’s first scene, two things about Divorce become clear: this couple isn’t working and we’re in for some absurd humor. Viewers, however, don’t have to wait long before the plot reveals itself. During a dinner party we see the host (Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon) trying to kill her husband. This disturbing turn of events serves as a catalyst for female protagonist Frances to tell the male half of Divorce, Robert, that she no longer loves him and wants to part ways.

What she actually says is “sometimes I come home from work and I’m happy, I actually feel happy, and then I see your car there parked and I realize you’re home and my heart sinks… I want to save my life while I still care about it.” And so the story begins.

Fans of Sarah Jessica Parker (Frances), who were expecting something similar to her Sex and the City starring role, may be disappointed with Divorce. Her HBO revival is much more of a “Miranda” than a “Carrie” – as Sex and the City fans tend to classify themselves. In fact, the story takes place in a suburban upstate New York town, far from the glamorous Manhattan lifestyle and in the heart of white picket fence parody.

Parker’s portrayal of a romantically frustrated woman, one who feels that she’s been forced to put her dreams on hold for her husband, is honest and captivating in its own way. No fancy dresses this time, just harsh doses of everyday reality with an intelligent touch of humor.

The fun part of Divorce is owed mostly to hapless husband Robert, played by Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), a character who contains a healthy mix of ingenuity, stupidity, and a certain sense of decency. Robert remains funny and witty despite the situation, while Frances seems as though she’s just trying to keep herself together while she moves on with her life and pursues pending goals, like launching her own gallery. Frances, for the last few years, has been the primary wage earner as would-be entrepreneur Robert has hopped from one failed financial adventure to another.

Thomas Haden Church

Thomas Haden Church

At some point in the story, Frances begins to change her mind about breaking up, but when the truth comes out – she’s been having an affair – there’s no turning back in Robert’s eyes. The audience learns later that Robert has also had an affair, although one platonic rather than romantic in nature. The couple then goes to therapy, but after this attempt to save their marriage fails, divorce returns to the forefront. But splitting up is not an easy thing to do, and faced with expectations that outweigh reality, Robert and Frances discover that things are not as bad as they thought.

Divorce is a ritual as old as time. Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who famously said alea iacta est (the die is cast) during the weeklong Saturnalia festival, went on to divorce his wife Pompeia. Other famous couples to seek a divorce include Charlemagne and Desiderata, Napoleon and Josephine, and countless more. As much as society changes throughout history, the idea of uncoupling has always been omnipresent.

Divorce attempts to translate the complexity of a marriage that has apparently come to an end, into the dual viewpoints of a couple contemplating living separate lives after many years together. The series has a language and an essence of its own, in which reality, humor, and absurdity find a common ground.

The network recently announced that this dramedy and its imperfect upper-middle class couple are making a come-back for a second season, so this divorce will, fortunately for fans, take some time to finalize.

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