TV Land’s out-of-the-gate success with “Hot in Cleveland” is beginning to look more and more like a fluke. The network has followed that sprightly original comedy with the dismal “Retired at 35” and now even-worse “Happily Divorced,” whose ability to attract viewers will hinge largely on their failure to differentiate this Fran Drescher vehicle from “The Nanny” reruns. The premise’s autobiographical underpinnings notwithstanding, “Divorced” is so painfully broad and filled with gay stereotypes all but Drescher’s most faithful fans will yearn to be separated from their TVs.
Drescher and ex-husband Peter Marc Jacobson (who co-created “The Nanny”) drew inspiration from their real-life relationship in creating the show. It’s promotable, surely, in a People magazine way; watchable is something else again.
Drescher’s character is informed in the opening scene by her husband Peter (John Michael Higgins, a veteran of the Christopher Guest films who deserves considerably better) that he’s finally realized he’s gay.
“You’ve never even been with a man,” she protests. “Trust me, it’s not that great!” And so it goes.
Flash to six months later, and the pair are divorced but — out of financial necessity that surely wasn’t part of Drescher’s actual story — forced to continue sharing a house together. (Divorce is always hardest on those without syndication money.)
So Peter is constantly around, even when Fran brings home a hunky date (D.W. Moffett). Then there are her wacky parents (Rita Moreno, Robert Walden), who (along with everyone else) always suspected Peter was gay and are just so excited at the prospect someone — Fran, Peter, heck, anybody — might be getting laid.
Everything about the show feels as if it were plucked out of a time capsule stamped 1978, around the time “La Cage Aux Folles” was released, right down to the slogan, “He came out … but he didn’t move out!”
Drescher has always been something of a made-for-sitcoms cartoon character — Betty Boop’s look wedded with Olive Oyl’s voice — so playing broadly comes naturally. Yet even with that disclaimer, the fact-based elements to fall back on and the “Born this way” subtext, it’s hard to picture “Happily Divorced” collecting any GLAAD awards.
As with “Retired,” TV Land will roll out the new sitcom behind fresh episodes of “Hot in Cleveland,” which has already become a workhorse in that regard, treated by the network like “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” rolled into one.
Still, if this is as ambitious as the rerun-heavy Viacom channel plans to be with its original comedies, here’s one vote for repeating the golden oldies until the sprockets come off.