“Divorce is always thought of as this solitary endeavor, but what we discovered was to go through a divorce, you need the other person a lot. The process is so brutal and it can be made better by this other person — or not.”
Sarah Jessica Parker’s explanation of “Divorce,” HBO’s upcoming half-hour series from “Catastrophe” creator Sharon Horgan, doesn’t exactly make it sound like a laugh riot. Despite “Divorce” being Parker’s first series at HBO since the Emmy-winning comedy “Sex and the City” and Horgan’s established work as a top-tier comedy writer, the series sounds far deeper than even Carrie Bradshaw’s most challenging moments.
During the half-hour panel discussion at HBO’s Television Critics Association press day on Saturday, Parker, Horgan, co-star Thomas Haden Church and executive producer Paul Simms certainly dug into some pretty scary territory — especially for anyone who’s ever been married.
“Since we meet this couple in such a tense bad time, it allows them to say things to each other they wouldn’t otherwise be able to say,” Simms said.
“Divorce” follows Frances (Parker) and Robert (Church), a long-married couple with two kids who decide to get a divorce after a particularly trying time. Horgan’s scripts track the couple as they go through the various phases of ending a marriage, from counseling to mediation and beyond.
“I actually sat a friend down and asked her if she would give me some detail and nuance so I could capture the pain of the whole thing,” Horgan added.
“Children — that was the main thing for me,” Church said. “The children kind of represent a bit of a centrifuge. As you’re fragmenting, they’re there in the center to keep you together. That was one of the key dynamics to keep it authentic and believable.”
Horgan said she did draw inspiration from “The War of the Roses,” Danny DeVito’s 1989 black comedy that stands as one of the most ruthless and popular interpretations of a marriage ending ever put on screen. But there are differences.
“Right before I met SJ, I watched that again,” Horgan said. “[But] you can’t keep that kind of level up. You can’t kill that many cats and dogs on a TV series.”
Parker described their first meeting as “a blind date” set up by HBO.
“We talked about the kind of thing Sarah wanted to make and I wanted to write,” Horgan said. “I came out of the meeting thinking, ‘Oh my God, I think I was just asked to write a series for Sarah Jessica Parker.'”
Parker said her transition back to TV — after more than a decade away making movies — was “like a muscle slowly atrophied and you have to remind it of the routine.”
“Frankly, it reminded me of how much I love television,” she said. “I love the process, the speed, the urgency, how important every little detail is and how you have to sort things out to get it just right.”
Still, Parker’s new character is quite different from her last part on HBO.
“The only time we were really cognizant of distinction [between Frances and Carrie] was when we started talking about the wardrobe and understanding that there was an obvious connection between a skeleton and clothing,” Parker said. “I really think Frances was her own person from the moment I started reading the pilot. She was weary in a way I hadn’t seen or been able to play and had a relationship with a man and her children that I hadn’t had the chance to play.”
“Divorce” premieres the first of its 10-episode Season 1 on Oct. 9, after the second episode of “Westworld.” Take a look at the trailer and a few first look photos below.