If I were watching this show on another network, would I like it? That was the question I struggled with throughout the series debut of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.
Full disclosure: I am an unabashed Bravoholic. At one point, my claim to fame was that I had seen at least one episode of every show Bravo that had ever aired—I’ve slipped a bit since then; my numbers are more in the 90 percent range these days. But the point is, I am Bravo’s demographic. So, even if I haven’t read the Vicki Iovine novels on which Girlfriends’ Guide is based (I haven’t), I should have been able to settle into the network’s first foray into scripted television easily. Such was not the case.
Brief rundown: Abby McCarthy is a self-help guru specializing in getting your marital groove back. The only problem? She’s hiding the fact that she and her husband are in the throes of a separation—spurred by her own emotional infidelity—and are hiding this information from their children, friends, and the public at large. Though Abby finds kindred spirits in a pair of divorcées, she’s quickly becoming so fed up with the judgments and untruths of her own society that she’s on the verge of burning down her own house (professionally, societally, and—heck!—maybe even literally). Oh yeah, and there are some jokes about “conscious uncoupling” and Wikileaks.
In her review, my colleague Melissa Maerz’s highlighted the “playful” tone of the show’s key art. But playfulness is exactly what’s missing from this pilot. With its uncomfortable sex, desperation, and self-loathing, Girlfriends’ Guide is not only polarizing… it’s downright bitter considering it airs on the network that brought us Game of Crowns, Hey Paula, and Showbiz Moms & Dads.
The problem with the show, ultimately, is that it’s hard to like—forget about root for—Abby. It’s hard to like anyone. Even as we judge, say, Kim Richards on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Girlfriends’ uncomfortably fluffy lead-in), we are at least amused by her… even occasionally touched by her real-world problems and the way that she shows her humanity in attempting (in whatever flawed way) to cope with those problems. The focal characters on Girlfriends’ Guide are disjointed, two-dimensional, and borderline hateful. Do I go to Showtime or AMC for antiheroes? Sure. Do I come to Bravo for them? Not at time of this airing.
As such, I’m sorry to say, the most efficient organizing principle for recapping this series appears to be ranking the characters based on their awfulness. Let’s start with the most likable, shall we?
I guess it wasn’t all that cool when Abby’s son asked, “Is it weird that I like the smell of my own farts.” Then again, he’s a kid. And he was Special Person of the Day at school!
Charming and easy on the eyes, this 28-year-old bar manager beds Abby once she finally throws caution to the wind and gives her estranged husband Jake a taste of his own medicine. There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to ask themselves: Has anyone ever not sounded smarmy saying, “I am going to give you the younger man experience”? (Also, “Balls—touch ’em!”) And yet Will is seemingly well-intentioned amid this group of venom-spitting sadists. He’s not thrown by Abby’s incredibly awkward come-on but completely understands the fact that she calls out Jake’s name in the sack—twice. And he wants to cook for her.
Abby’s book editor (played in a pilot cameo by Carrie Fisher) is a stereotypically brassy broad whose only goal is to sell her client (regarding Abby’s marital upheaval: “It’s not that I don’t care. I just don’t care right now”). She’s not particularly warm, but she’s also just doing her job.
Max & Ford
We’ve seen little of Abby’s brother and his husband (and am I wrong for wishing that Patrick Heusinger, who plays Max, should have instead been cast as one of Abby’s love interests?). Regardless, Max seems to be more committed to marriage than any of his straight counterparts. Sure, he’s quick to judge Abby for hanging out with cynical divorcées Lyla and Phoebe, but I tend to agree with Ford that Max’s biggest offense is wearing pajama pants in public.
Random Judgy Moms Nos. 1-3
Oh, come on! You know her name is Lyla. And stop complimenting your “friend’s” husband’s body.
Abby’s daughter earns major points for being way smarter and more perceptive than her parents give her credit for. Still, moody teenager or not, it’s pretty selfish to get pissy that your mom borrowed your earrings literally seconds after you’ve seen your parents in a physical altercation.
Technically we don’t even see the CW starlet Jake is seducing in the pilot, but she already seems like an a–hole.
Lyla’s unemployed ex-husband has a penchant for S&M and is, by Lyla’s account, a financial drain who abandons his children on his court-appointed nights. It’s not hard to see what negativity and hypocrisy Dan brings to the relationship. What else does he bring to the relationship? Ginger babies. That’s a mitigating factor for me, but I understand it could swing both ways….
Random Woman at Book Signing
We only see you for two seconds, lady, but get off your high horse. You are, by choice, at a self-help book signing. When the author shows a brief moment of vulnerability, you literally toss her book at her feet—from a balcony! You could hurt someone, you glaring, pitiful drama queen.
If Abby’s divorced friends were cast on a washed-up, middle-aged iteration of The Bachelor, Phoebe’s occupation chyron would read: “Free Spirit.” Let’s just say losing track of her children (less than 10 minutes into the pilot) wasn’t a proud moment. Phoebe’s sexuality is… ummm… negotiable—she kisses Abby during a wild girls’ night out and is literally prostituting herself to her ex-husband Ralf. Still, Phoebe seems like a genuine friend. And she has beautiful breasts, a fact we know because she lifts up her shirt in the middle of a boutique like it’s Mardi Gras and she’s running low on beads. Yeah, it’s a little desperate, but Dr. Marber’s work is spectacular.
Abby teaches us what a comatose vagina is… or, I should say, was by the end of the pilot. She is wildly deluded about her relationship with Jake, but that could be chalked up to self-preservation. She has spark; we see it when she’s dancing like nobody’s watching and somehow pulling off the phrase “That’s how I roll” when talking to Will (credit to Lisa Edelstein). Abby is not exactly poised—during foreplay with Will, she sort of likens her nether regions to “a hot dog down a hallway,” and she actively trolls Jake with the accusation that he smells “like sex.” You want to empathize with Abby, but her tendency toward self-destructive makes it tough; witness her emotional affair and the moment when she wishes her husband dead in front of a book signing crowd at the end of the pilot. Abby is, in short, off the rails. And not in a good way. That said, she does get in one pretty fantastic dig when she finds out Jake, who’s asked her for financial help, is dating Becca: “Which bills do you need me to pay specifically? The suite at the Chateau [Marmont]? The Princess Diaries on demand? Therapy for Lily when she finds out her dad trolls for dates at One Direction concerts?” Zing!
Lyla the character is saved primarily by the fact that Janeane Garofalo plays her. Lyla the person would be running the world and horrifically unhappy. In the pilot, she’s deeply entrenched in a plot to prove her husband incompetent to raise their children. Given modern laws and what we know of Dan, it shouldn’t be that difficult. And Lyla is not above seducing Dan, liquoring him up, then calling the cops to bust him for driving drunk. Yet, somehow, that Muppet jacket Lyla wears out for a night on the town with Phoebe and Abby still feels like the worst of Lyla’s crimes? Lyla is an enigma. A mean, compelling enigma.
Abby’s trolling that I mentioned above? Jake deserves it. Paul Adelstein is a wonderful actor. Jake is a world-class jerk who has yet to demonstrate any redemptive qualities. He resents his wife for being successful enough to pay the bills when his dreams of being a director don’t work out (the dreams Abby encouraged him to pursue, mind you). After being too “tired” to emotionally connect with his wife for five years, he still thinks he has a leg to stand on when Abby comes home after her first tryst post-separation. (Reminder: He’s been taking a CW star to the Chateau Marmont for sex.) In that same confrontation, Jake attempts—with all the finesse of a dog peeing on a fire hydrant—to seduce Abby because he senses she’s slept with another man, then he dings her “old p—y” when she rejects him. Jake passive-aggressively texts Abby about their “bulls— ‘happy marriage’ act” during family breakfast (her response that he “wake[s] up smelling like Astroglide” is no better… but awesome). And, if we’re being honest, Jake is probably the kind of man Lyla should have married.
Hot dog jokes and GOOP references notwithstanding, Bravo’s decision to go this dark with its first scripted series represents a major gamble on the network’s part. A gamble, by definition, looks to the future in anticipation of success. So how does Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce look—and move—forward? Hard to say since everyone at the series’ core is quite clearly unwilling (or unable) to do so. And where do we stand if we decide to join them in this shame spiral?