How you relate to Bravo’s new Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce will likely depend not on how you feel about The Big D itself, but how you feel about your own romantic connections — or lack thereof. And that’s just how the show’s creator Marti Noxon intended it.
“For me, this show is much more about what it’s like to be men and women right now — and right now it’s really complicated,” says Noxon, who took over for Joss Whedon as showrunner on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then worked with Shonda Rhimes on Private Practice, Matthew Weiner on Mad Men and Ryan Murphy on Glee on her way to crafting Girlfriends’ Guide. “In Episode 2, I basically wrote the thesis statement — the Delia character just lays it out there. She’s like, ‘Look. How long, in the span of history, have women had the capacity to have more power in their relationship than men?’ It’s a sliver, a moment, right? And we have no handbook. Men don’t know how to deal with it. Women don’t know how to deal with it.”
Loosely based on the Girlfriends’ Guide book series by Noxon’s co-executive producer Vicki Iovine (former wife of music impresario Jimmy Iovine) and informed by Noxon’s own experiences as a 40-something divorcée, the 13-episode series is an unflinching, often moving examination of the myriad ways modern men and women relate to one other within — and without — the bonds of marriage. And if you’re willing to check your knee-jerk sensitivities at the door, there’s therapy to be had here … in abundance.
“I found that Vicki’s voice was a great entry point,” Noxon explains. “And if we could have that franchise behind us, it meant that the people who were familiar with her work would understand that this is going to be funny, this is going to frank and this going to be brutally honest. But it’s also not going to be a drag. We’re not going to tell you that you’re the worst because this happened. We’re going to be like, yeah, this happened … so what next?”
Lisa Edelstein, who showed off a knack for emotion-driven dramedy on FOX’s long-running House and was Noxon’s first choice for her lead, is splendid as self-help author Abby McCarthy, whose lucrative book empire hinges on the public’s perception of her longtime marriage — a union that is about to crash to a very public end. Having discovered a cozy email exchange between his wife and another man, and feeling unappreciated in his Mr. Mom role, Abby’s husband Jake (a pitch-perfect Paul Adelstein) is not-so-secretly — or frugally — courting a much younger actress, sneaking home at dawn so the couple’s two kids don’t realize that Daddy doesn’t live there anymore.
“I felt like everything I’ve ever gotten to do professionally was training ground for this job — because all of it applied,” says Edelstein, who wed for the first time in May. “I am 48 years old and this is the best job I have ever had. That’s really exciting for women. Everything I have done and learned, I get to apply here. And I’m a grownup — I’ve done and learned a lot!”
Edelstein also welcomed a directive from NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group chief Bonnie Hammer instructing her not to have any work done on her face. “I found it interesting that in her mind she had to send that message, because I don’t touch my face anyway,” Edelstein says. “But I also found it interesting that it was what she wanted. I feel very beautiful and very celebrated on the show, but you do see my age and I really, really appreciate that.”
To help her negotiate her suddenly single status, the flummoxed Abby surrounds herself with a network of fellow divorcées, including ruthless attorney Lyla (Janeane Garofalo) who is locked in a fierce cash-and-custody battle with her own ex, and free-spirited young Phoebe (Beau Garrett) whose former husband cheerfully supplements her already hefty settlement if she throws in a booty call now and then. Certain their pal just needs one good trip ’round the bases to score her mojo back, they take Abby to a club on the eve of her latest book signing, setting in motion a series of events that write the intro to the next chapter of the author’s life.
“A lot of people compare the show to Sex and the City but a decade later, and I’m like, yeah, except in Sex and the City, their jobs and their economic power was kind of irrelevant,” Noxon says. “There was an episode where Carrie wanted to buy the apartment next to hers and she needed to borrow money. I loved that show — especially in the later years, I thought it got really nuanced — but I was like, ‘Sell your shoes!’ [Laughs] She had a closet full of shoes that were probably worth a zillion dollars and that never occurs to her?! I’m like, that’s not real life! Real life is, if you’re a woman trying to raise a family and make money, you’re constantly trying to figure out the balance between being indulgent and what’s going to feed your flippin’ kids! If there is a defining thing about our show, it’s that there is an economic imperative — it reflects right now, where most women either have to have a career or they want one.”
So while divorce is now a common denominator in most folks’ inner circles, Noxon realizes that we’re still not that great about talking about everything it entails. “I feel like this shift has happened so fast, and we don’t have a language for it yet,” she says. “My goal for the show is, let’s just start that conversation: This is weird, right?”
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce premieres Tuesday, Dec. 2 on Bravo.