How HBO's Divorce narrowly escapes terminal bleakness

On the twinkle of intimacy that saves the show

The first season of DIvorce artfully tells the story of one broken couple.
(Image credit: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

I still don't know why I like Divorce — the HBO series, created by Sharon Horgan, that wraps up its first season this week — as much as I do. A dark comedy focused on the painful divorce proceedings of a well-heeled Hudson Valley couple, Frances and Robert Dufresne (Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Hayden Church), the show has all the makings of a stone cold bummer. In many ways, it is — and I am not the kind of person who, when searching for a new show to watch at the end of a long day, says "You know what? I'd really like to feel devastated." Divorce is at times a devastating show, full of the kinds of recriminations and self-deceit that are all too familiar to us from our real lives — but it's also a funny one, and, in perhaps a more sustaining way, it is kind. Its kindness, as a narrative, comes from its willingness to look unflinchingly at its characters no matter how selfish and delusional they prove themselves to be, to continually give them chances to redeem themselves, and to document their near-misses as they strive to understand some emotional reality beyond their own.

Divorce takes two lead actors known for their broad, comedic performances, and subdues them. It's hard to watch Sarah Jessica Parker in anything without seeing her as an older version of Carrie Bradshaw, the self-obsessed but undeniably winsome heroine of Sex and the City, a show Parker carried with effervescent wit and energy. In one episode of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw decides after a breakup that leads her to compare herself to Katie, Barbra Streisand's spitfire heroine in The Way We Were — that "the world is made up of two types of women: the simple girls and the Katie girls. I'm a Katie girl!"

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Sarah Marshall's writings on gender, crime, and scandal have appeared in The Believer, The New Republic, Fusion, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015, among other publications. She tweets @remember_Sarah.