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The flighty Girlfriends’ Guide gets more grounded in season two

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Here’s a quick summary of the story behind Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce again: Vicki Iovine wrote a series of lifestyle guides for expectant and new mothers. Her first book was called The Girlfriends’ Guide To Pregnancy, and a cottage industry bloomed from there. It didn’t hurt that Iovine was a lawyer, a former Playboy model, and married to famous music producer Jimmy Iovine, as well as the mother of four. Then when her kids were around teenaged, she and Iovine divorced. She got her own Huffungton Post column describing her new life as a single person. And in her most amazing move yet, she snagged a deal to create Bravo’s first-ever scripted series, The Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and UnREAL’s Marti Noxon at the helm.

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As a former devout reader of Iovine’s books, I rooted for her series when it debuted on Bravo last year. What I found was a Sex And The City upgrade, a little bit older and transported to the West Coast. These four glamorous women (give or take a few cast changes) lived lives quite unlike what most people would consider anything but absolute luxury: a former fashion model, a high-priced lawyer, a writer who gets no shortage of deals (and men) thrown at her, and Jo, who is kind of a sticking point that we‘ll get to in a minute. The show certainly constituted escapist froth, but it also offered moments of intense emotionality, genuine chemistry between lead Abby (Lisa Edelstein) and her ex (Paul Adelstein), as well as the typical grapplings of working women and mothers, sexist workplaces, and venomous kindergarten coffee klatsches all on a grander scale. And it made for a fun watch: Sure, Abby hooking up with Will, a gorgeous young bartender 20 years her junior, may not have been realistic, especially when he turned out to be the perfect-guy prototype, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable.

The most interesting relationship, though, has always been Abby and Jake. In the first episode, he forces her to admit that they’re getting a divorce in front of their kids. They are so far removed from each other that the rest of the season was a slow progression of them getting together again. Because that’s the confounding and almost claustrophobic nature of divorce: You’ve already pledged your life to this person, so it’s really hard to untangle that, both physically and emotionally, and about ten times harder than that even if kids are involved. We left the end of season one with Jake and Abby closer than ever, with a soapy twist thrown in for good measure: Jake’s ex-girlfriend Becca, the star of a vampire show not unlike Noxon’s own Buffy, is pregnant with his kid.

As season two opens, Jake and Abby are so close they’re having sex again, while the show heavy-handedly drills in an unsubtle lesson about the danger of keeping secrets. Abby hasn’t told Will about Jake, and Jake hasn’t told Abby that Becca is pregnant. As on SATC, the other cast members play out their own version of the week’s theme: Delia isn’t sure she wants a big wedding with big shot Gordon (and I can’t remember why she didn’t get disbarred for sleeping with a client). Phoebe is still tortured by her past with her sexual abuser, and brilliantly plants a threatening essay in the school newsletter that gets her abuser to back off on her ridiculous order of protection against her. For Phoebe, the power of possibly revealing their secret is enough to set her free, while the ambivalence Delia’s hiding about her wedding appears that it could derail the whole thing.

And Jo… sigh. I know she’s supposed to be all fun and outspoken and quirky, but the straightlaced-daughter-and-messier-mother combo was pulled off much more effectively on Gilmore Girls. Here Jo offers very little to the overall series, and her selfish decisions are maddening. After she crosses the boundary one too many times as she stays in Abby’s house, Abby admits that Jo and her daughter Zooey have to find another place to live. Which is completely reasonable, since Jo has been staying there in the guest house since she and Zooey arrived in town months ago. But instead of being grateful to her friend, this grown-ass woman acts all sulky and petulant. Pfffft. Good riddance, I say.

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Yes, L.A. divorcee Abby has a guest house. But this season, GG2D adds a much-needed dose of reality to the series. Sure it’s fun to see these women hang out in houses that have actually been written up in design magazines, but it’s not that relatable. For many, switching from a two-parent to a single-parent household is a tremendous financial burden, among other hardships. So in the role of Abby’s editor at her new job, we get Barbara (note: not a cute name like the others), a black woman whose husband left her for her own sister, leaving her behind with a special needs child, a mother with Alzheimer’s, and no child support. When Abby goes off in a meeting about how divorce can be fun, Barbara walks right out of the room. It may be fun to read about it—just like on the show, it’s fun to see—but to many, that reality is anything but. The character of Barbara will help this show flat away into that froth in that second season.

At the end of the episode, Abby has come clean, leaving perfect Will behind. Not-so-perfect Jake has not. Sure, the show needs some soapy elements to explore, but it’s also true that divorce is messy. And complicated. And gives Girlfriends’ Guide a lot to draw from every week.

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Stray observations

  • Loved Joss Whedon’s cameo (getting mistaken for J.J. Abrams!), and I hope Jean Smart makes another appearance soon.
  • Thing I found on Twitter that I never knew: When Lisa Edelstein was a teenager, she was a club kid on the New York circuit with James St. James.
  • The British vegan chef was hella annoying, but Gordon was very charming with the girls.
  • Welcome to episodic reviews of Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, which I’ll be looking at weekly, following my brief review last season.
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