Midway through the course of watching HBO's comedy Divorce, there was a scene where a guy walking down the street spotted Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City). The two lock eyes and keep walking, and she flashed a smile that I guess could be construed as a self-validation type of thing. I feel like this is part of some weird contractual thing or style note that SJP has in any project she's in these days, a signature move, if you will. Anyway, this anecdote serves little more than to serve as a segue to Divorce.
Created by Sharon Horgan and featuring a crew that includes Jesse Peretz (Girls) and Paul Simms (The Larry Sanders Show) amongst its producers, Parker plays Frances Dufresne, a businesswoman with a desire to promote art in her suburban New York neighborhood. She's been married to Robert (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) for years and they have a couple of kids, but she's grown dissatisfied and begun an affair with a college professor (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords). When Robert finds out, he decides he wants a divorce, and the dance between the two begins.
It's hard at times to tell what type of show or dynamic Divorce wants to get involved in. The 80s Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner jaunt War of the Roses seemed to do the dark comedy divorce genre some justice, so much so that it couldn't be topped all that much. That being said, Parker and Church give it a halfhearted try in divorce. There are some moments of back and forth snippiness that prove to have a smile or two in them, but nothing over the top jarring in any way.
For that matter, if there were one way to peg the show's first season, it would seem to be two people who are nice at the core who don't seem to have the conventional mindset about divorce in them, until they get around seasoned pros at the institution. For most of the season Frances and Robert are civil, even cordial, to one another, at least as much as two people can be when they're ending their marriage to each other. They try to keep up good appearances wit each other, until the last half of the season throws things in a downtown with them. Compared to some of their friends, like the on-again, off-again married couple Diane (Molly Shannon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Nick (Tracy Letts, August: Osage County), they could be saints. The show does an excellent job in the early scenes of showing that dynamic and Frances/Robert's decision perhaps subconsciously to not be like that, but they learn that people are people and will largely not change.
However, it's Parker and Church that remain at the heart of the show and both performances are fine, with perhaps Church's being more notable. Parker's work and reluctance to be dragged into a dirt fight are subtle and quietly surprising, cast against character I think. But Church is more of the heart for the couple, and his hurt is palpable but not completely engrossing. For that matter, both leads' performances have a certain incompleteness to them. The show sets up its second season in such a way that both parents will almost certainly be villains at one point or another, but it seems in Season One that the desire to get to that point was more conspicuous than the journey the characters go through. There was a conviction lacking for them that resonated to me.
By no means is Divorce a swing and a miss, but it feels at times like they take one or two pitches more than they need to before attempting to swing. The characters are there and there's a conflict that everyone can relate to, but there's not enough conveyed into these characters that makes the conflict they have within themselves (or with each other) sufficient enough to warrant the show being some form of appointment television. It's enough for me to check back in on, but not enough to stay invested in.The Blu-ray:
The 10-episode first season is split evenly over two discs and presented in 1.78:1 widescreen using the AVC codec. The show is a little darker visually to go along with the source material; the show is in the middle of winter and whites are replicated well but not blown out, and present a good contrast against the grays of an asphalt plow or two going through them. In ‘prettier' moments (read: the dinner parties), the natural light presents a nice softness to the faces, though on the whole the image doesn't have much detail over the course of 5 hours anyway. It's solid viewing, nothing spectacular.The Sound:
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround for each episode, and mostly dialogue-driven with the words sounding clean and well-balanced with little adjustment. The gunfire in episode one sounds clear, the police stop at the end of the show has the gentle environmental din of cars whooshing by. The subwoofer stays quiet for most of the season, but it accurately replicates its source material just fine.The Extras:
Three commentaries (on episodes three, six and seven) with Parker, Simms and on the latter two, the writer for the episode. The tracks aren't all that engaging; there's a decent amount of watching action onscreen for a 30-minute episode, and they cover the usual ground that these tracks tend to do; the guest stars were great, here's why this was written as it was, that kind of thing. Nothing mindblowing. I'll note that Church, who has proven to be an excellent commentary participant in the past, wasn't included on any of these tracks. A missed opportunity to say the least.Final Thoughts:
The first season of HBO's Divorce does just enough to make you care about its main characters and story. The problem is that it seems content to do just that, and the show's experience feels hollow after running through these episodes. The transfer and soundtrack are good, the commentaries are disappointing. I'd wait for the inevitable HBO binge before you do anything, but it's worth a peek.