Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what about adjacency?
In ABC’s new family comedy Splitting Up Together, miserable marrieds Lena (The Office‘s Jenna Fischer) and Martin (Nashville alum Oliver Hudson) decide it’s time to call time of death on their union — but they plan to remain under the same roof because they can’t sell their house. (And because it’s a sitcom.) Though the split is mutual and the couple has a meticulous co-parenting schedule worked out, it isn’t long before Lena and Martin’s quasi-separation has them realizing Big Truths about how they each contributed to the failure of their marriage.
Hudson uses his punchable face to good effect as Martin, an emotionally oblivious manchild who is Fun Dad to his two sons (“Hey, you want clean clothes or the master sword in Zelda? I can’t do both”) but remains perpetually flummoxed by his teen daughter. And Fischer’s inherent sweetness saves Lena — a micromanaging, nitpicky perfectionist — from becoming a standard sitcom harpy-wife.
After a somewhat histrionic pilot (premiering Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET), Splitting Up settles into a calmer, more ambitious meditation on marriage, gender roles, and whether motherhood and sexuality are mutually exclusive. Though it’s missing the unapologetic weirdness of creator Emily Kapnek’s other ABC comedies — Suburgatory and the gone-too-soon Selfie — the show uses talented supporting players to inject a little quirk. Martin’s friend Arthur (MADtv’s Bobby Lee) is almost slavishly devoted to his wife (Lindsay Price), and Lee’s earnest delivery makes lines like “If you ever tried to leave, I would hold you captive like an orca” sound almost romantic. And as Martin’s fiercely feminist daughter Mae — the kind of girl who sips contentedly from a mug labeled “Male Tears” — newcomer Olivia Keville is impressively deadpan.
It’s a little concerning, from a sustainability standpoint, that by episode four we’ve already witnessed one attempt to reconcile the central couple — drawing storylines from the will-they-won’t-they well so early in the show’s run seems unwise. Martin and Lena’s marriage is far less interesting than their individual struggles to figure out why it failed. Grade: C+