Lisa Edelstein’s new series is obsessed with affluence, and works best when it ventures into dramatic territory
“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” gets off to an exceedingly cringe-inducing start before showing glimmers of dramatic potential.
Those moments don’t exactly save Bravo’s new scripted offering but they help explain why Lisa Edelstein is starring on it. The “House” veteran is a fine actress but hardly known for her light comedic touch, and the role needs lots of that in addition to dramatic chops.
Edelstein plays Abby McCarthy, a successful mommy author in L.A. who turns to divorced pals Lyla (Janeane Garofalo) and Phoebe (Beau Garrett, no relation) for support as her marriage to wannabe director Jake (“Private Practice” and “Scandal” star Paul Adelstein) falls apart. The pals do predictable things like take her out to clubs and find her an aggressive divorce attorney. Designer labels and celebrity names are dropped; Abby must run the gauntlet of fellow moms at her kids’ progressive school.
It’s all very “Clueless” meets “The Starter Wife.”
But, the dramatic moments are far more potent than the satire in Marti Noxon‘s new show. The hour-long dramedy, inspired by Vicki Iovine’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” books, is most affecting when it shows why Abby and Jake are splitting. Yes, he has a pretty CW actress girlfriend now, but Abby wasn’t exactly a saint in their marriage, which didn’t come apart overnight.
Their arguments have a ring of truth and genuine emotion. And they help make up for painfully awkward moments when Abby hooks up with a much younger man at a club.
Noxon, a veteran of shows including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” has more latitude to poke gentle fun at the affluent women in this series than counterparts on the network’s popular “Real Housewives” franchise. But in this case, truth is better than fiction. Finding the proper balance for dramedy isn’t easy and “Girlfriends’ Guide” fails miserably at that task.
The satire doesn’t play nearly as well as intended.
Even Garofalo, a veteran of comedies including “Larry Sanders Show” and “Reality Bites,” struggles with the material, and is exiting the show mid-season. Her Lyla is an exceedingly aggressive attorney intent on cutting off her celebrity chef ex-husband, who spends her money on a dominatrix. Garrett does a better job navigating her character’s open sexuality, and unusual arrangement with her ex.
In one of the recurring jokes early on, Phoebe keeps talking about starting her own business.
“You and Lyla are these ‘Lean In’ women,” she says to Abby, referring to Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg’s book. “I want that.”
Abby’s success is threatened, however, when she can no longer pretend to be the happily married author of the popular parenting guidebook, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back.” Her suddenly rocky future exacerbates financial tensions in her marriage.
The show addresses what it means when a woman is the earner and decides to get divorced; it also presents the male side of view.
“Girlfriends’ Guide” has some nice dialogue: Carrie Fisher shows up early as Abby’s pragmatic editor and tells Abby, “It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I don’t care right now.”
And Garofalo manages some nice one-liners, although not nearly enough to help make up for her character’s nasty need for vengeance.
One of the show’s big problems is that Edelstein’s Abby doesn’t seem overly convincing in that moneyed milieu, or as pals with those women. The show tries to address that by having Abby’s gay brother Max (Patrick Heusinger) point out that the two of them used to make fun of Lyla and Phoebe, but it doesn’t really solve the problem. An argument between Jake and Abby over raising their children in the Jewish faith seems more convincing.
The child actors do their part, but they can’t help the project shake its obnoxious, consumerist core. “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” may improve in subsequent episodes by plumbing more dramatic depths and relying less on L.A. namedropping (Hello, Gwyneth!), but I’m not holding my breath.
After two episodes, I’m ready to terminate my relationship with “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”
“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday on Bravo.