Given that Bravo’s reality shows don’t always scream “quality,” expanding its brand into the scripted arena presented a formidable challenge — one the network has deftly tackled, without deviating much from its niche, with “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” In a sense, this first fictional (admittedly, anyway) drama represents a flip side to “The Starter Wife,” offering a jaundiced view of L.A. and the challenges of marriage. With Lisa Edelstein at its center and a solid supporting cast that includes Paul Adelstein and Janeane Garofalo, the network has impressively found a way to credibly join the drama-producing ranks with an unreal housewife.
Immediately establishing both Edelstein’s Abby McCarthy as a self-help guru, as well as the benefits of synergy among NBC Universal properties, the character is introduced yukking it up with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on “Today,” plugging her latest book about how married women can sustain the magic of matrimony.
Yet while Abby looks very together in pushing her brand, behind it is a lie, starting with the fact husband Jake (Adelstein) has essentially moved out, sneaking back home to maintain a charade for their two kids — and not incidentally, her image.
In that regard, Jake isn’t completely unsympathetic — having put his career aspirations as a director on the back burner, somewhat, while raising their kids — nor is Abby a saint. The main issue as we meet them is that he has used their marital “break” to begin an affair with an actress starring in a CW series, to which Abby deadpans upon learning the news, “Does she play a parent?”
Series creator Marti Noxon’s script (with the premise derived from Vicki Iovine’s book series) is full of clever lines like that, and such nifty touches as the couple discussing their Judaism as the prospect of divorce looms, as well as some very raw and relatable displays of emotion, pain and anger between the spouses.
Still, “Girlfriends’ Guide” also indulges in plenty of Bravo-like fantasy and silliness, much of that coming from the antics of Abby’s divorced pals Lyla (Garofalo) and Phoebe (Beau Garrett) — the former a lawyer split from a husband she supported, the latter a former model still occasionally bedding down with her ex.
The free-spirited Phoebe quickly establishes herself as Abby’s guide to what’s possible in being single again, dragging her to a club that Abby isn’t wrong in describing as “hipster Disneyland.” And if part of Abby’s rebound happens a little too fast and easily in the two episodes previewed, those frothier elements feel very much in line with the “Desperate Housewives”-like niche that the program seeks to occupy.
With “Girlfriends’ Guide” emerging as such a polished product, Bravo becomes the latest network to deliver, at least creatively speaking, on its first dramatic at-bat, a la History with “Vikings,” with the bonus that the series remains squarely within its demographic wheelhouse.
Of course, the show does feature a very Bravo-like “This season on” tease at the end, proving the network doesn’t entirely trust its viewers to break from the template they’ve come to expect. That said, “Girlfriends’ Guide” is for the most part a pleasure, and unlike a lot of the network’s series, there’s nothing guilty about that.