Bravo found a keeper with great new series ‘Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce’

SHARE Bravo found a keeper with great new series ‘Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce’

A new TV series promises to fill the void left by HBO’s late, great dramedy “Sex and the City,” and it hails from an unlikely place: Bravo.

The basic cable network that’s turned countless “Real Housewives” into household names is breaking into the world of scripted programming in a big way with “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” debuting Tuesday.

Bravo’s first original non-reality TV series is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking story about an L.A.-based self-help author. Her marriage and career simultaneously implode, forcing her to hit the reset button as a single mom in her 40s.

Inspired by the popular “Girlfriends’ Guide” books by Vicki Iovine, whose marriage to music mogul Jimmy Iovine ended in 2009, the fictional series comes from creator Marti Noxon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).

“Five years ago my marriage split up, but this show is about so much more than that for me,” Noxon told TV critics during their summer gathering in Beverly Hills, California. “I had been wanting for a long time to write about sexual politics, about what’s going on between men and women right now in relationships.”

Lisa Edelstein (“House”) and veteran Chicago stage actor Paul Adelstein (“Scandal,” “Private Practice”) have instant chemistry as Abby and Jake, whose marriage can’t sustain the dual stressors of mundane domestic life and the disparity between her career (successful author) and his (aspiring — read: unemployed — film director). These parents of two look elsewhere to fill what’s missing in their personal lives. For Abby, that means an “emotional” affair with a married man over email. For Jake, it’s a very physical relationship with a hot, young CW actress. As if there were any other kind.

“They’ve been together probably since their early 20s,” said Adelstein, also a writing consultant on the show. The Francis Parker alum penned the fourth episode. “They love one another. They just can’t stand to be in the same room together.”

Abby increasingly comes to rely on her divorced friends, the sexually charged, free-spirited Phoebe (Beau Garrett, “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior”) and lawyerly Lyla, played to perfection by Janeane Garofalo (“Reality Bites”).

Sound familiar? They’re like an updated twist on Carrie, Samantha and Miranda. No sign of Charlotte — and I’m fine with that.

“There are obvious comparisons to ‘Sex and the City’ and I’m flattered by those,” Noxon said.

While “Girlfriends” dispenses with the “SATC” voiceovers, episodes are thematically framed in a way that’s reminiscent of columnist Carrie Bradshaw’s questions that kicked off each installment of the HBO series.

“We like to start every show with a rule,” Noxon said. “The first rule was: Never lie to the kids. But you find out where she learned that from — by totally lying to her kids. Every rule is ‘I learned this the hard way,’ so we try to play the opposite game.”

“Girlfriends” initially was supposed to air on premium cable, like “SATC.” It was developed for Showtime as a half-hour program before moving to Bravo and being expanded to an hourlong format.

Noxon is acutely aware of the power a different, new series can have in changing the course of a network. She used to be a writer and consulting producer on “Mad Men,” AMC’s first foray into original scripted fare.

“It’s exciting to be able to set the tone and start a conversation that I think a lot of Bravo viewers will be interested in,” she said.

While Bravo’s stock-in-trade is reality TV, Noxon wants to bring a different kind of real.

“I just try to be truthful,” said the showrunner. “Half the stuff that’s in the show has either happened to me or other people.”

She didn’t hesitate to share with a room full of TV critics the intimate, NSFW details about her first roll in the hay after her own marriage ended — an experience similar to one had by Abby, who accidentally coos her ex-husband’s name during sex with another man.

“Our show isn’t so much about the sexual romps,” Edelstein said. “It’s more of a raw exploration of what it means to find yourself in the world again. She’s searching for her voice again. Every way that she defined herself up to the point of the pilot is now taken away.”

Show promos of Abby sticking up her ring finger in a “take that” kind of way set the wrong tone for the series, making it seem like we’re in for a comedy about a scorned woman — probably a cougar — hell bent on making her ex pay for his cheating ways.

The two episodes made available for review reveal a much more nuanced, poignant tale, punctuated by some genuinely funny scenes, including one in the pilot with guest star Carrie Fisher (“Star Wars”). More guest appearances are on the way from “Orange Is the New Black’s” Laverne Cox, Bernadette Peters and Evanston’s Nora Dunn (“Saturday Night Live”).

“The humor comes more out of the tragedy of life than it does out of jokiness,” said Edelstein, who got married the day before she moved to Vancouver to film the 13-episode series. “As a newlywed, telling a story about two people who have not heeded the warnings that passed them by along the road, it was very much in keeping with what I was thinking about because I want this to last.”

Here’s hoping the show sticks around, too.


9 p.m. Tuesday on Bravo

Rating: [s3r star=4/4]

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