In the weeks leading up to its premiere, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” stood at the center of television hype. As Bravo’s first scripted television program (that is, if you don’t count its reality shows), “Girlfriends’ Guide” was set for a promising season. Based on the popular advice books by Vicki Iovine, the series is created by the ubiquitous Marti Noxon, with writing and producing credits on successes such as “Mad Men,” “Glee” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce
Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
The show focuses on middle-aged Los Angeles women in various stages of divorce. At the center is Abby McCarthy (Lisa Edelstein, “House”), the author of a wildly successful self-help book for young women; ironically, her entire career has been built upon her superficially perfect family and marriage — the pilot captures her in marital strife with her adulterous husband Jake (Paul Adelstein, “Private Practice”). Meanwhile, she is negatively influenced by her two divorcée friends: Phoebe (Beau Garrett, “TRON: Legacy”), a former model who’s fully aware she’s a “bangable blond,” and Lyla (Janeane Garofalo, “Wet Hot American Summer”), who has an affinity for vengeance against her ex-husband. Both empower Abby to celebrate her impending single status by binge-drinking, having nonchalant one-night-stands and lying to her family.
The series refreshingly follows women who are the breadwinners — and not housewives — for a change. However, this empowering factor is almost negated in Bravo’s stereotypically inaccurate portrayal of “normal” women. All the females stand in a quasi-gorgeous state, their beautifully slim figures buttressed by plastic surgeries and Botox procedures. There are no women struggling, of racial diversity or with variation in weight — as the show homogeneously demonstrates only a narrow margin of today’s modern woman.
Abby and her friends seem vapid beneath their immaculate complexions. Even the protagonist, whom by name and regardless of faults or flaws is supposed to be admirable in some way, is difficult to root for. In the end, Abby’s friends push her from independence to self-destruction — when she purposely botches her speech at a book signing for young women who look up to her. An audience cannot be quite as sympathetic toward Abby as they can toward a Hannah Horvath figure — both with affinities for bad decision-making, but Abby without a cushion of ignorant youth.
In general, the show often blurs the lines between comedy and drama. Interspersed between humorous moments, the writing stands out primarily in the serious scenes. “Girlfriends’ Guide” may be a scripted show of fiction, but it is one that feels “realer” than any of Bravo’s “reality” shows. Though it bears a flippant title, the show aims to be emotionally complex, peppered with a bit of social commentary. In a way, it does live up to those expectations, but to quite a mediocre standard nonetheless.
Most prominently, the show comments on the stigma divorce still carries. Just as an argument between Abby and her gay brother Max (Patrick Heusinger, “Black Swan”) reveals, some people do not accept divorce as an appropriate option unless one spouse is abusive or alcoholic. On the other hand, though Abby’s husband is initially portrayed as a despicable individual, he can be commended for his final willingness to mend their relationship. He often fluctuates between vulgar rudeness toward his wife and sporadic efforts to make things work — but it is Abby, the “empowered” woman, who finalizes their separation. The fickle reality of their marriage captures the essence of divorce.
The end of the pilot concludes with an indifferent wave goodbye from Abby as she saunters out of her book signing — an attitude that mirrors that of the viewer. Although the pilot is not awful, there is little to be desired for upcoming episodes. But despite “Girlfriends’ Guide” ’s mediocrity, Bravo should be commended for taking a step beyond its usual programming.