Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happily Divorced is definitely happy

     Happily Divorced is TVLand's third and newest foray into original sitcom territory, inspired by its star's life. Starring Fran Drescher (The Nanny, Living With Fran) as Fran, a woman whose husband, Peter (John Michael Higgins, Raising the Bar, Kath & Kim) decides to come out of the closet after nearly two decades of marriage. In retrospect, Fran realizes Peter's sexual preference is obvious, but she has been oblivious all of these years. Due to financial constraints, they are forced to continue living together, though after a six month jump, Fran begins dating again. Her first beau is Elliott (D.W. Moffett, Switched at Birth, Friday Night Lights), a music producer who she interrogates to make sure he likes women before they go out. Their first date is a disaster after Elliott has an allergic reaction, but he shows up at her place later, and there may be potential there.

     That's a lot to cover in the pilot, and it's unfortunate there is a huge time jump. It seems there would be a lot to deal with, breaking the news to friends and family that Peter is gay. Yet, once he makes the announcement, the series gleefully skips ahead to after that's all over and Fran and Peter have settled into a new, comfortable routine. Actually, nothing really changes, except they are no longer having bad sex. Sure, this is supposed to be a light-hearted sitcom in the vein that many series on TVLand are, but rather than become rote and common, why not delve into such an interesting situation, rife with material?

     And that's not all that's frothy and surface. As Peter comes out, Fran is already in bed, but with full hair and makeup done. Fran's parents, Dori (Rita Moreno, Cane, Oz, West Side Story) and Glen (Robert Walden, Brothers, Lou Grant) are not surprised at Peter's coming out, but they encourage him to make it work. When Fran gets a divorce, none of the dark hurt or deep emotional pain is explored at all, and Fran's parents roll very easily with the punches, showering affection on both Peter and Elliott. Then, there's the gay stereotypes played up. Peter dons a little cap to attend a sing-a-long showing of The Sound of Music. He uses facial cream.

     That being said, it's a bit more polished than Hot in Cleveland, and far better than Retired at 35, the sister series on the network. Perhaps it's Higgins's expert comedy, or Moreno and Walden's deadpan delivery, or even Drescher's easy ability to pull sympathy as she rolls with her bad luck, but it's more enjoyable to watch than either of its predecessors. Which doesn't necessarily make it good. But there is something addictive that will make me watch again, even if it is just fluff.

     Delightfully, it brings the fantastic Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris, Martin) back to series television as Fran's friend, Judi. An actress as funny as Arnold should not be off of television for long. Even should this fail, it'll hold her over until she gets a new vehicle.

     Drescher has always had a distinctive voice and attitude. With Happily Divorced, she has matured into 1980's Joan Rivers. Close your eyes. There's almost no difference. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as that was when Rivers was in her prime and a comic giant. It's just odd how similar the two are, something I've never noticed until Drescher toned it down just a bit and changed her cadence.

     Happily Divorced airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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