I had high hopes that ABC’s “Splitting Up Together” would make me laugh, especially with Ellen Degeneres as one of the show’s executive producers. And I mean really laugh — in a way that’s greater than the fake chuckle family comedies normally elicit. But with an overwhelming sense of “been there, done that,” a couple lacking on-screen chemistry and an all too predictable plot trajectory, “Splitting Up Together” mostly falls flat.
Like a lighter version of HBO’s “Divorce,” “Splitting Up Together” follows Lena (Jenna Fischer, “The Office”) and Martin (Oliver Hudson, “Nashville”), a recently divorced couple who have decided, on behalf of their children and extensive mortgage, to remain living under the same roof. Well, kind of. The plan goes a little something like this: Alternating weeks on and off duty, one parent lives in the house and takes on all the household responsibilities, while the other gets some much needed rest and relaxation in the detached garage.
It sounds simple — and boy is it. It’s just a disappointment that almost every aspect of the pilot is as one-dimensional and basic as the premise. Each member of the family is forced into a trope so constraining and overused that there seems to be little room for character development down the road. Lena is instantantly labeled as the uptight, high-strung mom, whose neurotic tendencies and hypersensitivity are to blame for the divorce. And Martin, on the other hand, fully embodies the man-child trope, acting as the cool dad who just can’t seem to comprehend emotion or communication.
As for the kids — well, the kids are just bizarre. They somehow seem unusually unphased by their parents’ separation. Additionally, they are bound by such rigid stereotypes that they come off more as caricatures of pop culture trends than real, living people. The oldest son, Mason (Van Crosby, “Criminal Minds”), is nothing more than a boy embarking on the journey that is puberty. In the first episode alone, his complaint of painful balls completely consumes his already short moments of dialogue. The pair’s fiercely feminist young daughter, Mae (newcomer Olivia Keville), is almost scarily expressionless, as she sips tea from her “Male Tears” mug and bashes her brother for having a crush on Kate Upton. And as for the youngest child, Milo (newcomer Sander Thomas), the only air time he’s been given is five seconds of looking cute.
Perhaps the most pressing problem of “Splitting Up Together” is that it’s trying all too hard to be funny. The pilot felt strained, as though the actors were pausing to let audiences know that they had just said a joke, and that you should laugh now. While there were a couple genuine sprinkles of pure comedy, like when Lena accidentally texts Mason with flirty messages, most of the punchlines fail to deliver.
Among the cast, Jenna Fischer was truly the only actor who delivered a winning performance. As Lena, she was convincing and defined, and stood strongly as the leader of the household. But even then, I couldn’t help but imagine her in her world-renowned role as Pam from “The Office” due to the characters’ shared use of witty humor and quick insults. Alternatively, Oliver Hudson was nice to look at, but extremely bland and unappealing as Martin. For a couple that had been married for 10 years, there was almost no chemistry between the two of them — either romantic as ex-lovers or argumentative as newly divorced.
“Splitting Up Together” has a seemingly low shelf life, considering it is very likely that Lena and Martin will eventually try to rekindle their relationship. Or, at the very least, the series is sure to fall into the inevitable loop of a “will they, won’t they” storyline, which the show will frustratingly milk for all it’s worth.
“Splitting Up Together” is meant to be a comedy, but divorce is just not given justice for the traumatic event that it is. It’s possible the series is meant for an older demographic that can really identify with the trials and tribulations of separation, or maybe divorce just isn’t conventionally funny. Either way, “Splitting Up Together” will easily get lost in the flood of other network comedies, and isn’t worth the hype that Ellen’s signature provides.