Before I get started on this week’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce recap, I want to pose a few questions, based both on reactions to the show around the office and around the web. How many of you never-divorced folks are still tuning in? If not, why not?
And how many of you (especially you ladies) who have been through the uncoupling ringer recognize every emotional gut-punch Marti Noxon puts in her scripts — regardless of these women’s income, lifestyle and social standing — and find the show refreshingly honest and cathartic for it? And, given that, how odd is it to try to rationalize that there are plenty of folks out there who think that Real Housewives of Wherever is real-er and this show is just … well … depressing. No fun at all — except maybe that dildo light saber part, which was totally hilarious. Where is the estrogen-fueled backstabbing? Where’s the fabulous vacations? Where is the bartender from episode one, because that dude was hot! I thought you said this show would be fun!
And blam, just like that I am — to some — a bitter divorcée who can’t let go of the past and just relax, for Christ’s sake. Except that I’m not. My divorce happened 22 long years ago and, yes, for reasons there’s no need to get into here, it left me with indelible scars … and also a boatload of strength and independence I may have never discovered otherwise … and most importantly, the wisdom to recognize a truly good man when one crossed mine and my daughter’s path. And the opportunity for us to form our lovely, funny, committed family. That’s thing about surviving hardship — it fine tunes gratitude like nothing else.
But not everything requires a punchline.
I’ve read other reviewers and their commenters lament the likability factor — or lack thereof — of GGTD‘s characters and that bugs me. Yes, this is a TV show and TV show’s are all about entertainment. But it’s a TV show about marriage and divorce. And divorce takes everything you thought you knew about yourself and your spouse and your family and your future and turns it on its ear. It renders each of you the bad guy to somebody, no matter how much of a shit your former spouse might be. It reduces what you thought was a lifetime partnership to dollars and cents and who gets the futon, the friends and the kids on the weekends. It is the worst kind of business transaction — never mind the emotional drubbing. And that stuff doesn’t make you likeable. It makes you behave like someone you never thought you could be — and life just goes on, regardless of whether you need a minute, a week, a year to right the ship. And there is no good-behavior checklist that can help with that.
But I guess there is also no denying the fact that everyone of us plays the hand we’re dealt, whether we wanted in on the game or not. So this show probably isn’t for everyone. But allow me to salute it for not caring if it is. And love it all the more. Because it says something to me.
[Steps off soapbox]
So where were we then?
Last week we discovered that Abby (Lisa Edelstein) is not too great at “Me Time” (or window repair), Jake (Paul Adelstein) is not too great at abiding by the rules if the kids are going to whine, and Lyla (Janeane Garofalo) actually has one hell of a poignant breaking point. In this episode, “Rule #426 — Fantasyland: A Great Place to Visit,” we learn that words can hurt. Sometimes a little. Sometimes to a devastating degree. But they can also heal.
Since Jake already crossed the “no significant other until they’re significant” line with last week’s Becca-riffic bowling and karaoke outing, and Abby’s in major need of a pick-me-up, she decides to take a stab at reconnecting with Nate (C. Thomas Howell). What’s the harm in two friends grabbing coffee, am I right?
Turns out, even less than she thinks. While the pair are doing their duty as crossing guards at the kids’ swanky school, Nate reveals that he has, in fact, left his marriage. Isn’t that delightful!? If they weren’t already acquainted, this could be the cutest meet-cute in the history of the rom-coms he writes!
And since the schoolyard seems to be a hotbed of romance, a quick glance up the sidewalk reveals Phoebe (Beau Garrett) making out with the handsome male half of an exotic — and married — European couple she’s befriended. I’m not entirely sure why this would surprise Abby, given Phoebe’s track record, but it does.
Meanwhile, GGTD‘s resident happily marrieds, Ford (J. August Richards) and Max (Patrick Heusinger), are prepping for the Family Equality Gala. Well, Ford is prepping for it. Max is preoccupied with a “Little League emergency” in the form of his team being disfigured by a ball-playing tyke with a broken thumb. Still, he must have a proper suit, so says his spouse. It’s a big occasion, he and Ford are being honored and he must have a proper suit. Abby agrees to take her brother shopping to keep the peace.
Max is even less enthusiastic about Abby’s news that Nate is newly unwed, but she persists. “I’m excited … and kind of terrified,” she tells him, holding out a suit that makes him cringe because all suits make him cringe. “If being with Nate is half as exciting as emailing him…”
“You sound like a fourth grader,” he retorts. And a real fourth grader with thumb trouble trumps shopping for a suit for one hoity-toity night. Max is out the door, leaving Abby in the company of Lyla who says she’s shopping her way to inner peace. Abby asks her if she can keep a secret. Lyla puts the odds at 60-40 if she’s off the clock. Abby tells her about Phoebe and the married dude macking in the schoolyard bushes. Bad plan. Lyla is in no mood to find either party’s dalliance with a married man — digital, physical or otherwise — palatable.
“What you’re doing is actually more intimate,” she growls at Abby. “It’s emotional infidelity and that is so brutal on the spouse. Trust me. Ask Jake. Or Nate’s wife. Or me.”
And when Phoebe arrives, she turns her wrath blondward. Phoebe insists that what she is doing is actually helpful to the Europeans’ union. “What are the therapeutic qualities of your vagina .. for the married couple?” Lyla seethes. Unflappable Phoebe thinks Lyla just needs the therapeutic qualities of her massage therapist, Damon Cash.
To celebrate her first real date with Nate, Abby tugs off her wedding ring with a smile. And the night starts off reasonably well. At Abby’s behest, Nate shares the portion of his tale about winning an Oscar that he deems “first date material,” promising the kicker at a later date. Abby talks about meeting Oprah. They pull a Pretty in Pink scene steal and go shopping for vinyl records. It’s all very romantic. But, filmmaker Nate decides, not romantic enough for their first kiss. “First kiss in the jazz section of a vinyl store with a box of Kung Pao — that’s a little too Annie Hall,” he laments. “Classic — but dated.”
How about the front porch of his house? So much the better to have options if the kissing gets good.
Except it doesn’t. Perhaps, says Nate, Abby needs to open her mouth a little wider. Or maybe she just has a weird mouth. Let’s direct a better scene. Nope … kissing under the sprinkler and pretending it’s rain doesn’t make Abby’s mouth less weird. And Nate’s son arriving home early from a sleepover doesn’t make the whole unfortunate scene less weird. But it does get Abby out of there.
Speaking of unfortunate scenes, turns out Phoebe forgot to mention to Lyla that if you tell Damon Cash you’re a Friend of Phoebe, you get a special surprise bonus that involves him massaging your girl parts. Those girl parts. Lyla leaps off the table and bloodies his nose.
And the day doesn’t get any better. When her boys return from visiting their dad with instructions to present her with her favorite dish, Lyla brightens, thinking the gnocchi with olive oil could actually be an olive branch after she allowed herself to be vulnerable in front of him in the principal’s office. It’s not. It’s the unpalatable side dish to the $2,500 mediation bill tucked in with it.
Speaking of unpalatable — Nate and Abby decide to give romance another go, this time in the bedroom, where Nate strips to his button down and a pair of turquoise polka dot socks, hammering away at Abby and talking up a storm, pausing only to inquire if he’s huge — his word, not mine — and therefore hurtful. Insult, meet injury — afterward, he catalogs the coupling’s shortcomings. His orgasm was weird. Her tongue is cold. Her nipples are warm. That combo’s weird, too.
Abby asks if he plans to narrate everything.
He does not. In the morning, when she attempts to salvage the encounter with pillow talk, Nate informs her that “morning are not for talking — they’re for contemplating suicide.” And embarrassing bathroom noises, mere feet from where she lays. The distance between Fantasyland’s entry and exit is sometimes perilously short. And noisy.
Come gala time, a perfect storm of misery is brewing. Delia (Necar Zadigan) cheerfully tells Max and Abby that she supports gay marriage because gay divorce will double her business. Lyla stews at the “divorced ladies table” — and when the evening’s special guest presenter, Lt. Adele Northrup (Orange is the New Black‘s Laverne Cox) arrives at the podium to toast Max and Ford and everyone’s civil right to marry, Lyla unravels once more. Moving herself so she can look into an embarrassed Abby’s eyes, she rasps, “You have the civil right to then fall out of love with whom you have chosen and question every choice you’ve made prior to that. … You have the right to be miserable.”
Which is when Phoebe arrives, livid about Lyla did to Damon. The two launch into a war of words that Max awkwardly relocates to the ladies room. “Why don’t you figure out what is making you so goddamn angry?” Phoebe rails. “Figure out a way to dial it down, so you’re not taking it out on everybody else.”
“You don’t understand,” Lyla chokes. “Dan … is gone. We used to take care of each other. And now he’s possibly going to take my children?” And in the meantime, she must still pay the bills via other people’s misery and augment her own by realizing that she’ll never make story time at school.
With their moment of glory seconds away, Ford tries to usher Max from the melee. Max says the award doesn’t matter to him. “Everything that I do. Everything. Coaching, working, making dinner. It’s not important to you,” he tells his stunned spouse. “You don’t take anything that I do seriously, unless it’s about you. You have a big job and a big life — you just want me to show up and look good. Sometimes I just feel like you want to be married — but do you want to be married to me?”
Ford does. And he intends to prove it. Taking the podium without Max, Ford breaks down the reality of marriage for the long haul:
“It’s messy and it’s hard and it ebbs and flows … but that’s because it is alive, And that is a good thing. That’s what taking that vow is about. That when the fantasy is behind you, you look your spouse in the eye and you say, I do. I. Do. Again…and again. Max … I do. Always.”
But what do you say to your former fantasy when he or she’s behind you, too?
Abby tracks Nate down onset. I’ll admit that the post-damper wisdom she displays was a much longer time in coming for me — but it did come. So I’ll split the difference.
“I just want to say thank you” she says. “For us. Getting close. Things we said. The way it made me feel. It really helped me realize that my marriage wasn’t in trouble. It was over.”
Max agrees. And he has a special parting gift for her in the form of the rest of the Oscar story: “I went up to shake Sidney Portier’s hand and I pooped my pants a little!” he crows. “Not just a ‘shart.’ …I went back to meet the press and I stunk up the place. It was hilarious!”
To every cloud a silver lining …
… or at least the realization that a day at the Little League field is an unexpected pleasure, you don’t need the man for the gnocchi, and sometimes three’s a secret best kept to the three.
New episodes of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce air Tuesdays at 10/9CT on Bravo.
Photos: Sergei Bachlakov/Bravo