Judge Gordon Sullivan is heading to the farmers' market for some fresh laughter.
"They say all the good ones are married or gay. She got both!"
Gay marriage was a hot-button issue in the 2000s, with both sides making impassioned pleas for their view of whether or not homosexuals should be allowed to marry one another. Though the fight is hardly over (with many, many states not allowing gay marriage or even recognizing marriages performed in other states), the debates seemed to shift around the second decade of the twenty-first century to focus more on women and reproductive rights. Happily Divorced—a sitcom about the life of a married couple after the husband reveals he's gay—shows exactly where the culture is at in terms of gay marriage and the perception of gays in general. It's not a pretty picture.
Fran (Fran Drescher, The Nanny) and Peter (John Michael Higgins, Bad Teacher) have been happily married for years. One day, Peter decides he's gay and their marriage is over, but that's just the beginning of the new life in the same house. Now, Fran and Peter are Happily Divorced. All ten episodes are spread across two discs.
I readily admit, my finger is nowhere near the pulse of the sitcom world. There are none I regularly follow and it's literally been years since I've caught more than a few seconds of an adult-oriented sitcom. If Happily Divorced is any indication of what's out there, then I'm glad I've been avoiding them for the past few years. Here's just a smattering of the things that make the show interminable:
• The laugh track. I'm never, ever a fan of the laugh track. If I could go back and stop the research that led producers to smother their soundtracks in unearned laughter, I would do so in a heartbeat. Happily Divorced is one of the worst offenders in this regard that I can recall. The first scene of the show involves Peter waking up in bed next to Fran, having an obvious anxiety attack. When she questions him, he reveals he's gay. This scene is simply overrun with canned studio laughter. We get it a laugh when Peter opens his eyes! I'll admit that a character opening his eyes could be funny; Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton could pull it off. However, with a character we know nothing about, in a situation that we know nothing about (aside from the fact that it takes place in a dark room), opening his eyes is not cause for laughter. Yet, there are the yuks on the soundtrack. Whatever the merits of the jokes in the show, the canned laughter makes them much harder to appreciate.
• The gay jokes. I know sitcoms aren't supposed to be edgy or controversial. They're all pretty much recycling the same dozen or so stories with minor variations, usually involving romance or family shenanigans (sometimes both!). The jokes, like the storylines, are often recycled. I get it. Still, Happily Divorced trades on the broadest stereotypes of the gay community and makes the most obvious jokes it can. Of course, Peter's a florist (cause guys who like flowers must be gay!), and when Peter says something about colors coordinating, Fran actually says "that's so gay" in response. I guess it's a measure of the strides that homosexuals have made in pop culture in the past few decades that this kind of thing can even get on the air, but these jokes are lame.
It's not all bad. The actors bring as much of their talent as they can to bear to these broad characters. Fans of Fran Drescher will appreciate her raspy take on a divorcee, and John Michael Higgins makes his portrayal of Peter as sensitive as he can given the material. The second-tier cast is helped by the likes of Rita Moreno and Robert Walden. It's the best kind of cast one could hope for with a show of this type, and their fans are probably the only real audience for these episodes, although there might also be "camp" or ironic appreciation for some viewers.
This DVD set is pretty good as well. The show's 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers are solid broadcast quality presentations. This is as studio-bound show, so don't expect much in terms of visual pizzazz. However, there are no serious errors in compression or authoring, colors are well-saturated, and black levels are consistent. This is as much as fans will ask of these DVDs. The show's audio is available in 5.1 and 2.0 flavors; both are heavy on the dialogue and laugh track. In both cases the dialogue comes from the front, and the 5.1 mix doesn't have a lot of use for the surrounds. Extras include a number of interviews with the cast and a pair of featurettes. There's also a cancer PSA from Drescher (a cancer survivor).
Maybe fans of the actors will be able to wade through the broad comedy of Happily Divorced to enjoy the performances from Drescher and her co-stars. For them, this DVD is a solid effort worthy of at least a rental. For everyone else, this should be avoided.
Not great, but not guilty.
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