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"Happily Divorced" Review: It's the Dumb Gay Joke that Keeps on Giving ... HEAD! (*Laugh Track* *Dismissive Wank*)

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | June 20, 2011 | Comments ()


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I'm not particularly interested in getting into the specifics of "Happily Divorced" -- the third scripted series to debut on TV Land -- except to say that it's a fairly miserable excuse for a comedy. There's a decent story behind it, however, and one that might have given rise to a more sophisticated show. Unfortunately, that didn't materialize.

The show is based on the real life of Fran Drescher (the annoying laugh from "The Nanny") and her husband, Peter Marc Jacobson. The two had been high-school sweethearts in the 1970s until they divorced in 1999. A couple of years later, Jacobson confessed to Drescher that he was gay. The two remain friends, good enough in fact to create this show together.

The show mirrors real-life in its set-up: Drescher plays a florist, "Fran," married to "Peter" (John Michael Higgins), a real estate agent. In the opening scene of the show, Peter comes out (after sex) to the surprise of no one except Fran, least of all Fran's parents (Robert Walden and Rita Moreno), who are not only the least bigoted people on the show, but the tiny reason there's a reason to watch. Because of financial difficulties, the two have to continue living in the same home together, even after they've divorced. The show thus follows how they navigate living together as friends and former spouses.

I was drawn to the premise because I'd seen the same thing unfold with my parents (with the added element of three children), so I wanted to see how "Happily Divorced" measured up to reality, or at least my reality. Clearly, Fran felt more comfortable telling gay jokes based on broad stereotypes scored to a grating laugh track than my mother, who didn't really care to talk about the issue. Fran, on the other hand, returns to a singular refrain during the pilot episode, "How did I not know?" a refrain as obnoxious as her laugh in "The Nanny." She repeats the line every time John Michael Higgins does something stereotypically gay, which happens every half minute. There are even Sound of Music and Mexican cabana boy jokes. That's the level of obvious we are talking about here.

The show might not have felt out of place in 1992, but in 2011 -- even on TV Land -- these kinds of jokes are not only dismissive, but unfunny. In the late 90s, "Will & Grace" had a remarkably successful formula: They used Jack as a caricature to bring in viewers who weren't comfortable in thinking of gay people as real people, and then Will to sell the message. "Happily Divorced" returns to a pre-"Will & Grace" era: It's not using humor to crack glass ceilings, it's just making lazy, dumb gay jokes. There will come a time, very soon I expect, when a show like "Happily Divorced" will feel as outdated and offensive as "Amos n' Andy" and minstrel shows in the 40s and 50s. For many of us, that time has already arrived. It's time for television stations to step up to the 21st century. After all, if a Republican can say "fuck it" and get behind "the right thing," those liberal commies in Hollywood ought to be able to look past a few dollars and do the same.




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