The IMDB synopsis for HBO’s “Divorce” says: “A couple goes through a long, drawn-out divorce.” It’s rare a show can be summed up so literally in a sentence. “Divorce,” even in season two, feels long, drawn-out and altogether so simple. Much like in an HBO project, the talent behind and in front of the camera is staggering. Creator Sharon Horgan treads in similar waters on her Amazon show “Catastrophe,” which looks at the pitfalls of a couple who rush into marriage. That show gives the central couple some relatable, biting conflict to chew on. “Divorce” strands stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church in a never-ending plot point. These two people are getting a divorce, and there isn’t much more to it than that.
Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church) find themselves in a bind as their lawyers continue to go at it about who gets “The Eagles” CDs. Frances has recently opened an art gallery in an area notorious for small businesses going under. Robert literally doesn’t have enough money to finish putting the roof over his head in his new place. Still, what throws Frances in a tailspin is her children would rather live with Robert.
Sarah Jessica Parker shines in these moments. After spending a whole season demanding a divorce, she finds herself up at night suffering from insomnia. The elusive happiness she has sought after is what’s ultimately keeping her up at night. Even better are the moments in which she tries to win the kids over to her side. A desperate last-minute attempt involves Frances buying a trampoline to entice her teenage kids. This gives Parker some nice bits of physical comedy. For as good as she is here, these are conflicts we have seen before.
Thomas Haden Church, finally free of his ridiculous season one mustache, continues to be a welcome presence. His deadpan delivery provides the show with fun sight gags. His ability to resign himself to his half-built new home is great. It’s even better when he lets the rage simmering underneath explode every once in a while. The show wisely colors him differently than the typical “loser divorced Dad,” which would’ve been too easy. This becomes most apparent when he contemplates living in a home with his lawyer’s other clients. This Greek chorus of frat boys that aged out of the demo wisely frightens Robert. Still, it’s hard to tell if Church is finding material where there is none or if he knowingly winks at how his character has done this plot before.
Molly Shannon and Tracy Letts, once again, steal the show. As a pair of violently unhappy spouses learning to make it work, the two wring passive-aggressive gold out of their scenes. However, these moments are few and far between. This speaks to one of the greater problems with “Divorce.” There’s a lack of supporting characters. Frances has Shannon and her other friend Dallas, Talia Baslam, pop up to offer supportive words and one-liners now and again. However, none of them are fully fleshed out enough. It’s a two-hander show that thinks very little of the world around these characters.
The show continues to signal to us that it doesn’t know where to go. We have plenty of conflict in Frances and Robert unable to achieve their dreams due to financial constraints. These motives have the possibility of driving them together. The old joke, “We’re too poor to get a divorce,” could be a neat, if dicey, the punchline for their fiasco. However, the show treads in the material we’ve seen before. The cast all knows how to pull their weight, but its a strain. The writing gives them few things to grasp up on to elevate the show. In the end, everything looks like a lot of work for only a little bit of payoff.