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Divorce - Counseling - Review + Poll

Very little is off limits when it comes to making dark comedy. Whether it’s serial killers (Dexter), death (Six Feet Under), medicine (Scrubs) or even war (M*A*S*H - which covers medicine, death and war) the human mind will always welcome humour in the darkness. Humour is a healing and coping mechanism so at its extreme one can make sense of even the darkest. Divorce is a subject begging for comedic release. There is very little happiness in the ‘conscious uncoupling’ of two individuals…as Gwyneth would say, particularly when there are children involved. So it's ripe for ripping off.

Last night saw the third episode of Sharon Horgan’s new HBO sitcom “Divorce” and while it’s taking a long time to warm up this latest instalment was a significant improvement on last week. Counseling, written by Horgan and Paul Simms and directed by Jesse Peretz saw our divorcing couple reaching out to a therapist to try to untangle the roots of dissatisfaction. Throughout the episode it became clear that the root of satisfaction in this new comedy is Thomas Haden Church’s character, the bitter and angry husband Robert.

The challenge when writing a topic like divorce as a comedy is to present the humanity of the couple irrespective of whether the characters are likeable. Three episodes in and there is very little to like about Frances and Robert. Neither character is someone we might choose to hang out with. It’s even arguable whether they would ever have been likeable. But it doesn’t matter if they aren’t likeable as long as they reflect a depth we can identify with. Despite being a quite objectionable man and guilty of an ‘emotional’ affair it is Robert who draws my eye and my laughter.
The counselling scenes were stand out quality writing - uncomfortable, unpleasant but genuine and rich in comic timing. It is Church who brings them to life.

This is an unfortunate situation for Sarah Jessica Parker. Although the bigger billed name on the ticket Parker’s character Frances struggles to come across as a character worthy of our empathy. Then to make matters worse she is playing this as a drama with no route to comedy. Through Frances we are seeing the damage that a bad marriage and potentially horrendous divorce can do but it is through Church, perhaps because of his slightly confused persona, that we get the dark joy.

And then Nick tells him to shut up from his coma. And Molly Shannon enters with her erratic and wildly unhinged Diane and the ensemble shifts this comedy up a gear. “Divorce” has to work very hard to bring us along. When presenting just Frances and Robert as a couple it stutters and drifts into drama. It is the introduction of secondary characters such as, in this case, the Counsellor or their friends that breathe life into the show. I want to see much more of them. They shape this show and are as pivotal to it as the central divorcing couple. Counseling was enjoyable but the writers are not making it easy for us.

PS. What woman walks around her own home with heels on?

About the Author - Brouhaha
Maxine (aka Brouhaha) is a fan of Grey’s Anatomy and writes episode reviews and occasional articles. Her other TV favourites include Foyle's War, Criminal Minds, Bones, TBBT, Broadchurch, Catastrophe and despite her better judgement Madam Secretary. In real life she's a mum, self-employed and can often be found arguing about politics or current affairs, attempting to write fiction and buying hair products. Got a question - go to Tumblr ask!
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