Divorce & Widowhood · Film & Television · Marriage & Life Partners

Sex, Lies and Paperwork: ‘Girlfriends Guide to Divorce,’ Season 2 Premieres Tonight


Picture this. . .four best friends — smart, well-dressed, impossibly thin — hang out, drink cocktails, shop for shoes and compare notes about the men in their lives. No, this isn’t Sex and the City. But, if you took Carrie Bradshaw and her besties to L.A., fast-forwarded a decade or so, and caught up with them just as their marriages unraveled? You’d pretty much have Bravo’s original series Girlfriends Guide to Divorce. To say it all feels familiar is an understatement.

But, that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Girlfriends Guide is loosely based on a popular series of self-help books by Vicki Iovine. At the center of the show is self-help writer and superstar mom Abby McCarthy. She’s become America’s favorite girlfriend, advising contemporary women on pregnancy, motherhood and how to “get your groove back.” Her bestselling books are based on her picture-perfect marriage and family, and have comfortably supported a mountaintop mansion, posh private school, designer coffee drinks and a Birkin bag, as well as her out-of-work (“aspiring director”) husband, Jake.

Of course, happy homes are seldom what they seem. Abby’s teenage daughter is acting out (and this is cable, so be prepared for some seriously bad behavior). Her younger son has an imaginary friend who says and does wildly inappropriate things. And, her husband has effectively moved out, sleeping with a “CW star” half his age and slipping back into the family home pre-dawn so the kids won’t find out. “You smell like sex,” Abby grumbles to him before their morning parenting charade begins.

As you can imagine, Abby’s under a bit of stress and she finally cracks at a bookstore reading. “Sometimes when I see my husband sleeping,” she tells the crowd, “I think ‘It would be so much easier if he just died.’” This being the age of YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat, her breakdown goes viral. She loses her cred, her book tour, and her publisher. Jake moves out and, adding insult to injury, Abby suddenly owes $4,500 a month for his apartment, $5,000 in child support, and another $5,000 in alimony. Abby was the breadwinner pre-divorce and Jake will be handsomely compensated for all the years he was a stay-at-home dad.

This is a fairly new phenomenon and one that the show makes much of. In fact, Abby is just one of three main characters who are taking care of ex-husbands. Her attorney friend Lyla is supporting her ex- and his dominatrix, while her college roommate and celebrity baker Jo has unwittingly paid for her ex’s horse farm. There is a shared sense of outrage (and too many “if only my ex would grow a pair of balls” jokes). One is tempted to remind these women that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If they had been stay-at-home moms with high-earning husbands, wouldn’t they expect alimony and child support, not to mention lattes and Manolos? It’s all about maintaining one’s lifestyle. And what a lifestyle!

Actually, for this very reason, it’s hard to take the women on Girlfriends Guide too seriously. Yes, they’re going through a tough time. But, they go through it in such nice clothes. In the real world (as opposed to Bravo’s), most women experience a decrease — in many cases, a significant one — in their financial security post-divorce. I found the series premiere, which aired last December, a little difficult to get through. At the time, I thought a better title for the show would be Rich White Women Whining.

But, I confess it grew on me after a couple of episodes for two important reasons: very smart writing and very strong acting.

The show was created by Marti Noxon, whose credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mad Men, arguably two of television’s best-written series. Abby and her friends may spend an inordinate amount of time talking about their lives over coffee (or wine or whiskey), but their observations are wry and right on. One of my favorite rants from early in the first season came from Lyla. She’s been called into the principal’s office because she sent her housekeeper to “Storytime” instead of attending herself. Her smug unemployed organic chef ex-husband suggests that she apologize.

No, no, no, no! By all means, I apologize. I apologize for having a job. I’m sorry I make a substantial income to pay for your green-grocer, small-batched, locally-sourced, farm-to-table, ethically-butchered, hormone-free, gluten-intolerant bills. But, here’s the thing. (If) I don’t work, my kids don’t go to school, so if you want to call and tell me tuition is free, I’d be happy to be here for Storytime and Arbor Day and kids’ court and snack bar and talent night and the nose-picking Olympics and every other bullshit holiday that costs me a fortune, but if you’re not gonna tell me it’s free, then I gotta work. Because I’m a working mother with a boatload of mouths to feed. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss pertaining to my children? Don’t call me in here again.

Whoa. I can practically hear working mothers everywhere (including myself) cheering.

The casting is perfection, and even the most disagreeable characters are fun to watch. Lisa Edelstein (best known as the humorless hospital administrator from critically acclaimed House) makes Abby sympathetic but not perfect. She’s at her best, in fact, when we can see and relate to her insecurities. Abby’s surrounded by an assortment of colorful friends, from angry lawyer Lyla (funny Janeane Garofalo who, sadly, left mid-season) and free-spirited and sometimes free-loving Phoebe (Beau Garrett), to hot-headed Jo (Alanna Ubach) and ice queen Delia (Necar Zadegan). Each actress brings her best to roles that quickly become more dimensional than we might expect.

Abby’s soon-to-be-ex is played by Paul Adelstein, who also evolves into a more likable character as time goes by. Warren Christie and Juilliana Gill earnestly portray their respective (and much younger) rebound love interests. And, Conner Dwelly and Dylan Schombing are believable as the two children caught in Abby and Jake’s crossfire. Bernadette Peters was effective in a touching cameo last season, and Lesley Ann Warren and Barry Bostwick will be introduced as Abby’s parents in the weeks to come.

Although Abby rebuilds her career by becoming a break-up guru (or, as one publisher puts it, “the sexy side of divorce”), the best thing about Girlfriends Guide is that there can’t actually be a divorce guide. There is simply too much grey area. Abby and Jake have real, complicated feelings for each other, which promise to get even more complicated as we move into season two. It starts tonight at 9:00 pm on Bravo or you can see a preview here. (LINK: http://www.bravotv.com/girlfriends-guide-to-divorce/season-2/videos/this-season-on-girlfriends-guide-to-divorce)

If you want to catch up first, pour yourself a glass of sauvignon blanc and binge season one on Netflix, Amazon, Vudu or GooglePlay.

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  • Rocket December 1, 2015 at 7:54 am

    “humorless administrator Cuddy on House”
    Clearly we were not watching the same show. Cuddy was full of humor and right up there as House’s match. I think the job called for that otherwise she’d have fired him on the spot into his second day at PPTH.

    I like Paul Adelstein but Jake started out gross as this man who doesn’t even bother to shower before he hops back into bed with his wife and who acts all entitled when she tries to move on after he has not touched her for 5 years while he’s been having his fun on the side. Then he gets dumped by his girfriend and tries to ruin his wife’s new chance at happiness. It’s complex and his feelings and Abby’s are confusing but eventually it’s more about him not wanting her to be free than him really wanting to get back together.

    Let’s see the real divorce part during season two please.

  • Phyllis Dupret December 1, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Having divorced a couple of times without any kind of ‘guide’…I look forward to watching this program on Bravo tonight……..