Divorce is really hard. Making a divorce work isn’t like making a marriage work, because in divorce, you can’t really make a “right” move—the mistake has already been made, and then it’s just… try not to make it worse. That’s what Abby and Jake are trying to do, “try” being the operative word.
For basically the exact same reason, making a show about divorce is also really hard, and in that way, this series is accomplishing something quite bold. Divorce is not a fun time to pop into people’s lives. On Girlfriends’ Guide, we’re pretty much watching everyone make mistake after mistake. The victories are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them small, and the lessons are hard-learned, but they’re there For that reason, the dramatic moments, and the characters who commit most to being a little screwed up seem to work best.
I’m going to have to depart from the likability scale that guided the past two recaps here, because if there’s one thing this episode made perfectly clear, it’s that it’s hard to be likable during a divorce. At a certain point, likability is really not a goal. Abby and Jake have kissed the gentle mediation techniques that seemed so appealing when they first decided to kiss their marriage goodbye, and Lyla is tired of exactly everyone’s bullshit, including her own.
So, how do you make a likable show with a bunch of people going through a dark time? Many have said that the darker themes of Girlfriends’ Guide make it seem like a series for Showtime or AMC, much more than the Network that Andy Cohen Built. But to me—a regular Bravo watcher who takes liberal advantage of the fast-forward button every time I start to feel cringe-y—the network makes a lot of sense. There’s a darkness that underlies the Real Housewives franchise, due in large part to just how many marriages have ended either as a direct result, or perhaps just coincidentally during its tenure.
Someone also always seems to be swinging around a vibrator on those shows too, which brings us to tonight’s episode. “Always” finds our characters at their lowest points yet. Abby is about to spend her first night without her children, and Jake is trying to make his bland apartment a fun second home for his children. Abby’s brother Max is helping Jake move into his new apartment—which I’m pretty sure is on the old set of Melrose Place—and whining about feeling like he has to choose between his sister and his old pal, his sister’s soon-to-be ex-husband. Man… this divorce must be so hard for him.
I think the answer to the question posed earlier about making a show likable with characters who are in a very unlikable place is to make them sympathetic. Jake and Abby’s situation is certainly sympathetic. That’s why, despite a fine job by Patrick Heusinger, I cannot come around on this brother. He has no sympathy for the two people he’s supposedly closest to who are going through a divorce, except to think about how much it’s hurting him. It’s, frankly, a really weird storyline to keep pushing.
It’s also funny then, that on the other side of the fence, I’m finding Becca, Jake’s CW-starring girlfriend, surprisingly sympathetic. She really seems to care for Jake, and therefore, she cares for his situation. She doesn’t harbor ill will toward Abby, and she seems to be coming from a good place when she comes over to help Jake as he crashes and burns trying to entertain his kids. It’s a terrible, unforgivable mistake for him to introduce Becca to his children, especially Lilly, who worships her, when he told Abby he wouldn’t, but it’s his mistake, not Becca’s. Lilly, of course, is thrilled to hang out with a famous actress and get over 400 likes on Instagram.
NEXT: Abby’s dancing on her own…[pagebreak]
In the midst of this, Abby is having her night alone at home. Lyla and Phoebe have promised to keep their phones on loud because they know the first night is hard, no matter how much self-help business Abby thinks she’ll be getting done while going through one of the darkest moments in her life. Earlier, she had a meeting with her editor—or the junior editor who replaced Carrie Fisher, editor to the stars—who, after bouncing a few new Girlfriends’ Guide book ideas off of her, informed Abby that her “how to build a perfect life” franchise was basically dead in the water the moment she revealed her life is in shambles. So… how about a book on menopause?!
That’s how we find Abby guzzling wine sent to her by her “Phoebe-godmother” (the gift basket also included the aforementioned light-up vibrator), typing out potential menopause book titles on her laptop, in a very Carrie Bradshaw-ish manner. “And I couldn’t help but wonder… when did my life fall apart?” As Abby drinks, her clothes seem to fall off—I swear, it’s wine not tequila—and suddenly she’s in her underwear, magic-markering herself up like a contestant on The Swan, doing the Cat Daddy, and wandering over to the broken window that she asked her husband who no longer lives there to fix. That damn window! She told him she was going to get her fingers stuck in there if he didn’t fix it—and he didn’t. And she does. Get her fingers stuck, that is, while only wearing her panties and a bra made of Sharpie marks.
That’s how Lyla and Phoebe find her after responding to an earlier drunken SOS message: The very handsome paramedic is assisting Abby in detaching herself from the window as her friends trade off between laughing at her and comforting her. The comforting involves a heaping amount of vodka, a little bit of weed, and once Abby sees Lilly’s Instagram posts of what a great time she’s having with her dad’s new famous girlfriend—and I kid you not, Abby’s brother and his husband end up there, too—at Lucky Strike, some therapeutic vandalism on the signed Becca Riley poster hanging in Abby’s daughter’s room. But as soon as Abby has drawn a big ol’ pair of boobs, and an even bigger belly on her husband’s new girlfriend, she remembers: She doesn’t want her daughter to hate her. And she just defiled her hero.
Somehow, in this dark moment, the episode takes on a slightly lighter vibe, as all three women seem to embrace the scary freedom that comes around when your life is truly in the pits. The vodka also seems to help with that. I think that might be the key to not letting the subject matter of this show get you down: Rather than balancing the humor with the darkness, find the humor that’s contained in that darkness. The best example I can think of for this would be The Comeback on HBO which, coincidentally, also deals heavily in Bravo themes, and the inherent underlying sadness of the truly unglamorous business of reality.
There’s nothing funny about the process that Lyla goes through in this episode, though. In trying to keep a big client meeting that Delian underhandedly switched the time of at work, she has to skip out on story time with her son’s class. And by “skip out,” I mean she sends the nanny, which the principal of the school calls her and her husband in to inform them is a big no-no. But when judgment turns her way for missing the event, Lyla informs the principal and her almost ex-husband that an apology is not an option for her. She’s making the money that sends her kids to school, and sending her nanny to story time was a byproduct of making that money, so unless tuition is going to start being free: “Don’t call me in here again.”
After Abby puts her daughter’s poster back up, she looks at up her husband’s new girlfriend, greeting Lilly with her forged signature—“Hi Lilly!”—and asks, “How is this all going to be okay?” Again, in divorce, it often seems like there’s no right answer, but that the show and the audience are at least asking the same questions is a mark in the win column for Girlfriends’ Guide… hopefully the search for some sort of solution throughout the show’s first season will be just as harmonious.