“Happily Divorced” continues to push TV Land’s sitcom renaissance

By Stacey Harrison

Once I describe Happily Divorced to you — a TV Land sitcom starring Fran Drescher about a woman who finds out her longtime husband is gay, yet still must live with him in the same house as the two of them start dating again — you’ll probably think you know exactly what to expect. And you’d be right.

As the third effort by TV Land, following in the hugely successful footsteps of Hot in Cleveland and Retired at 35, to revive the traditional sitcom format with a hint of naughtiness, Happily Divorced fits the bill. It’s not about innovation but execution, and with a cast of seasoned pros on the job, including John Michael Higgins, Rita Moreno and Robert Walden, the jokes land as they should and the laughs actually sound like they’re coming from a live studio audience.

Based on Drescher’s real-life experience with ex-husband Peter Marc Jacobson (who co-created The Nanny, and fills the same duties here), the writing does come off as a bit more personal than the average high-concept sitcom, and there is some genuine warmth generated beyond all the expected gags about how her character shoulda known he was gay. Sound of Music singalongs, sorbet intermezzos, a fondness for West Hollywood … mmm hmmm. Drescher is playing a slightly sweeter variation on her Nanny character,  and she is able to wring some sympathy from the situation. Considering that she’s constantly using that trademark nasally voice (which has a bit more creak in it these days), this is no small feat.

Even if the material isn’t always up to their strengths, it’s undeniably fun watching the actors at play. Higgins is perfectly cast as the fussy ex-husband, who despite coming out of the closet finds himself still jealous of Fran’s dating life, and Moreno settles adroitly into the sassy elderly mom role, even dropping in a not-so-subtle West Side Story reference in the pilot. Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris) plays Fran’s best friend, and could very well become a breakout star, if for no other reason than her character’s catchy nickname, Judi-Booty.

There is a serious, heartfelt story to be told about a marriage being torn apart by a self-denial of sexual orientation, but Happily Divorced isn’t that. It’s an amiable comedy vehicle that gives good actors who might not have gotten a second look from the major networks the chance to showcase their talents. If that is TV Land’s mission, call me a supporter.

Happily Divorced debuts Wednesday at 10pm.

Photo: Courtesy of TV Land