Why ‘Divorce’ is cleverer than it seems

In a world of instantly streamed international entertainment, we all hold the same remote control. Here’s what to point it at


Sarah Jessica Parker (right) and Thomas Haden Church in a still from ‘Divorce’
Sarah Jessica Parker (right) and Thomas Haden Church in a still from ‘Divorce’

What you deserve to watch:

Sharon Horgan is one of the most fascinating women in television. I first encountered her in the nutty Dead Boss, where the Irish comedienne and actress cast herself as a wrongfully imprisoned everywoman trying, disastrously, to navigate jailhouse tropes. Odd and inconsistent and often uproariously funny, the show led me to Horgan’s breakthrough hit, Pulling, a mighty fine show about three women sharing a flat and being unapologetically boisterous. A strikingly bold writer, Horgan embraces the implausible with unfettered enthusiasm, as if daring life to make her take it seriously.

After a couple of charming acting turns in The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret, Horgan hit peak with the Channel 4 comedy Catastrophe, a brilliant show featuring herself and Rob Delaney as a transatlantic couple trying to make it work despite love and angst and all the snark slicing through their conversations. It is a show all writers should watch if only to see how grown people should talk on television.

This is why I was so bewildered by the first episode of Horgan’s latest creation, a brand new HBO comedy called Divorce, starring Sex And The City’s Sarah Jessica Parker. Featuring Parker and ever-bumbling Academy Award winner Thomas Haden Church as a couple with their marriage on the rocks, the show seemed gobsmackingly unremarkable. Sure, there was some quirk—a gunshot, a big white dog, an affair with (of all people) Jemaine Clement—but it felt unexciting, and akin to far too many shows where the leading lady is unfailingly the smartest person in the room.

Then, suddenly, as a cellphone was dropped like a microphone, so was the other shoe.

We learn that Parker’s character, Frances, is not just a long-suffering wife who has to put up with a husband who doesn’t care that she doesn’t like his moustache—which could perhaps be a factor in her indifference toward his offering of cunnilingus—but she is also exposed as a selfish adulteress trying to have her granola and eat it too. Suddenly Church’s Robert has been handed the moral high ground, and like most men, he does n’t quite know how to deal with it. Slyer than ever, Horgan has subverted stereotypes again.

In the second episode, everything clicks satisfyingly—and surprisingly—into place. Frances, used to running her ship, is flung out onto the high seas and—in utter contrast with the mostly standard-issue pilot episode—is flailing, trying to avoid divorce while her husband makes her plead through a closed door.

Robert wants to lord his victory over her but it is clear that he is uncomfortable with the reins he holds and doesn’t know where he’d like to lead their family and their future.

Church, who I wager will shave his moustache the minute he thinks it will most spite his wife, is almost as good at being perplexed as he is at being petulant, and there is something frighteningly relatable about the childish pigheadedness he displays. Parker hasn’t really been on television since that iconic Cosmopolitan-endorsing show, but it’s super to have her back doing something completely different.

She is admittedly still left rolling her eyes while being surrounded by extreme characters, but unlike Carrie, Frances has believability—and a kind of desperate grace—on her side.

Divorce is streaming on Hotstar, with new episodes coming our way every Monday morning. Surprises in narrative style and character development are inevitable, and I suggest starting early in order to see as many rabbits leaving the hat as you can.

‘Documentary’ To Watch This Week:

Fine, this isn’t a documentary. Yet, looking at the way the US Presidential debates are turning out, it might as well be. Donald Trump’s The Art Of The Deal: The Movie is an absurd and rather delicious cinematic adaptation of the orange tycoon’s self-celebrating book of the same name. Revolving around the hotelier’s dream to make the Taj Mahal Casino, the film lampoons him as brutally as it can, while falling well short of the grotesquerie we have seen in recent weeks. He is a clod, but nobody in fiction is as much of a clod as the real thing.

Set in the 80s, the film is a pleasure, with a Ron Howard introduction, Henry Winkler as crooked New York mayor Ed Koch, Michaela Watkins as Ivana Trump, and Christopher Lloyd as—who else but—Dr Emmett Brown from Back To The Future. The real centrepiece, fittingly, is the orange-haired nut himself, played here with infectious glee by the one and only Johnny Depp. Hilarious, incisive and frequently too sly for some jokes to work, this daft film may just be the funniest thing you see on Netflix this week. Even if you lamentably shake your head long after the credits have rolled.

Stream of stories is a column on what to watch online. It appears weekly on Livemint.com and fortnightly in print. Raja Sen tweets at @RajaSen.

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