Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Girlfriends’ Guide perfectly depicts the dissolution of a marriage

Illustration for article titled Girlfriends’ Guide perfectly depicts the dissolution of a marriage

In the early years of our marriage, I told my husband that if I ever had to hide anything important from him—safety deposit box key, Cayman Island bank account numbers—I would put it in the box of extra garbage can liners. He was seemingly incapable of putting a new liner in the kitchen garbage after emptying it (see also: toilet paper roll replacement). In the spirit of gamesmanship, I asked him, “Where would you hide something from me?” Without pausing, he answered: “Public television.

It’s fights like that—like the time he got on me for how much I spent at the grocery store, and I raged, “It’s groceries! What do you think I’m spending extra money on there: yacht cleaner?”—that can make or break a marriage. In the end, it’s not money troubles or infidelity or disagreements about the kids that send you to divorce court. It’s garbage-can liners. Or yacht cleaner. And as Abby and Jake discover in this amazing episode of this show I’m not sure anybody but me is watching, it’s the leftover part from the dryer vent.

There are a lot of shows on right now about seemingly affluent people grappling with personal problems, usually in the L.A. area. Although billed as comedies, the humor seems like something you need to mine through the drama to get through. Some of these shows are excellent, like Togetherness, or Transparent, or Casual. I tried but failed with that last one, but I just couldn’t get invested in another heavy run of several thick hours with some mildly depressed people (that public television crack didn’t come out of nowhere, after all). Abby in Girlfriends’ Guide, like Casual’s Valerie, is going through a divorce, but her take on it from the get-go has just been lighter overall. Surrounded by fab girlfriends, wearing clothes that never have sleeves and shoes I couldn’t walk in from the bedroom to the kitchen, Abby was spiritedly taking on her new single life, fleshing out that emotional affair, having a younger-man fling. Her relationship with her ex, Paul Adelstein’s Jake, has remained a touchstone of the series, whether they were fighting or laughing or reminiscing or sniping. Adelstein/Edelstein have such actual, off-the-wall chemistry it’s easy to forget that he’s actually married to Paris Geller and not his on-screen wife. That chemistry came to a head in the first-season finale, as the two tenuously decided to give their marriage another try. And now that effort comes to a head in the deceptively titled, “You CAN Go Home Again.”

Abby and Jake decide to hole up alone in the house for a weekend (without the kids) to figure out their relationship, leading to startling repercussions. That’s the problem with dating: Everyone can be charming in two-hour long increments, can be supportive in a text, can look good on the surface. BUT ARE THEY GOING TO REPLACE THE GARBAGE CAN LINER? This is what Abby and Jake need to figure out. Again. Their palpable chemistry means that jumping back into their sex life with abandon is not a problem (the opposite, in fact), but that’s not where the hard stuff is. The hard stuff is in their relationships with their in-laws, their differences in standards of housekeeping, the unresolved resentment left over from the years before: Abby’s emotional affair and her having to support Jake’s artistic efforts. By the second or third time they chide each other to “let it go” as they fall into the familiar trap of one of their arguments, we begin to sense that this isn’t going to end well. The best part is that there’s not really a side to pick: Many times in TV relationships, the good guy/ bad guy is cut-and-dried (the cheater, the unreasonable one: much as I love them, look at Danny and Mindy on The Mindy Project this season).

Here these scenes play as honest, possibly because the episode was written by Jake himself, Paul Adelstein. Abby is kind of a control freak. She is not willing to take the blame for anything, and does say that everything is his fault. But a lot of it is. Perhaps I’m projecting too much on this show (as I watched the screener on my laptop, my son barely looked from his iPad across the room to note, “That show does not sounds good. Kind of sounds like you and dad sometimes”) but this dialogue sounded more real than anything I’ve seen on TV this season. I enjoy watching Michelle and Brett on Togetherness, but I can barely scrape through all the therapy-speak to get at what they’re even fighting about. Jake and Abby could have been standing in my own living room. The tired insult that keeps popping up, the fights that so quickly devolve, the well-worn roles that a couple falls into after years of practice, turn out to be the most destructive of all.

So when the fight over the extra dryer part escalates quickly into a heated, much-too-physical argument, Abby and Jake know that it’s a done deal. They tried, but they’re not going to make it. Jake wisely points out, “We are just these people together.” It doesn’t make them bad people: That’s the unholy hell of it. It’s just the way these two pieces fit together, not that either of those two pieces are bad. So I cried as much as they did at the realization that they will be unable to make this work.


Of course, since the show is called Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, I guess I should have seen this coming. If Abby and Jake reconciled, it would be a very short show. Now we’ll see Abby go on dates with the Oprah doctor, and see Jake’s new kid, and likely more scenes of her talking to her friends. But because of the expert way that the final demise of this relationship was set up, we’ll now be feeling Abby’s loss almost as much as she is. Can’t even send enough kudos to Adelstein for this episode, and I look forward to anything else he puts out. And Edelstein for bringing her own fierceness to the fight scenes, Abby raging at her ex even as you could tell how much she hated doing it.

The “home” theme was helpful overall, as Phoebe learns that even with all her still-gorgeousness, her previously familiar modeling world is more cutthroat than ever. So she’ll be going off on another soul-search to find a job, even though we’ve already seen her through the baby jewelry and community volunteering efforts. Delia and Gordon house-hunt, and he manipulates her stubborn streak into the house setup he wants, which is cute, but as Abby and Jake have shown us, that kind of dancing around your partner’s proclivities only goes so far. The focus on Abby and Jake also meant minimal Jo time, yay, and even when she showed up, Jake pointed out what an asshat she was. Just when I couldn’t like him any more.


Stray observations

  • Nice nod to Lisa Edelstein’s old club kid days with the attempt to turn her house into a dance floor.
  • Fashion this week: Hard to pick out best outfits this week because Abby was mostly naked this episode. Her blue bra was pretty? Under worst, I don’t think that most teenagers talk like Rory Gilmore 2.0 Zooey, and she dresses like a church mouse: not a good look for someone her age in L.A.
  • Seriously, if you’re reading this and not watching this show (although I can’t imagine why you would, but thanks), check this episode out. Tell your friends. I know we all have a lot of binge-watching to catch up on over the holidays, but this is my favorite new show out right now.