I’ve read a few review headlines of the new ABC sitcom Splitting Up Together, and the reception thus far has been fairly lukewarm. I wonder if they know more than I, because that pilot episode? It’s not bad. It’s sweet, and it hits upon some themes that I — and I expect, a lot of married folks with kids — might appreciate.
It comes from Emily Kapnek, who wrote one of the better episodes of Parks and Recreation, “Ron & Tammy: Part Two,” which I only mention because I watched the pilot for P&R again yesterday, and it was bad. Much, much worse than you might remember. Kapnek also wrote Selfie, the pilot of which got ripped by critics before we all turned around on that show and appreciated it for what it is: One of the best canceled-too-soon series in recent years. Kapnek is also responsible for Suburgatory, which had a somewhat slow start before blossoming into a terrific series.
All of which is to say: Pilot episodes are hard, and I trust Kapnek to find her footing. As it is, the premise for Splitting Up Together is kind of high concept and silly, but it allows the show to explore marriage from an interesting perspective. It’s about a couple — Lena (Jenna Fischer) and Martin (Oliver Hudson) — who divorce but decide to live together, exchanging turns taking care of the kids.
Kid-and-household responsibilities are the root problem for a lot of marriage. Most of us don’t get divorced over it, but there are times I envy the three-and-a-half days of freedom divorced folks get each week. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my marriage for it, but there’s a certain appeal to being free from child and household obligations for half your life while also being able to call your own shots without compromise as a parent in the other half.
Of course, it doesn’t actually work out that way in reality, and that’s what Splitting Up Together seeks to explore. In their experiences with their divorce, Lena and Martin will grow to appreciate what they had in marriage, but also what they lacked as partners. It’s an “Oh, shit! The grass isn’t greener on the other side after all” approach to marriage, although the series has some challenges ahead of it since Lena and Martin are clearly meant to get back together at some point, but doing so would mean the end of the series.
Fischer is Fischer: Sweet, and charming, and lovely, and Hudson is fine: He’s got sort of a bland, Duhamelian quality about him, but he’s serviceable and I don’t want to punch his face. He’s the Fun Dad who realizes that he can only be a Fun Dad when Buzzkill Mom is there to pick up his mess, while Buzzkill Mom also realizes that there is some benefit to letting go sometimes. Yeah, it’s trope-y, but there’s potential, and if anyone can find it, it’s Kapnek. Also, Coupling’s Lindsay Price is also in this, so I’m sticking around until at least episode 6. I am a little disappointed that Kelsey Asbille (One Tree Hill) — who plays the dance instructor — is also sticking around because it means Martin is destined to get involved with a much younger woman, a useless sitcom cliche I’m willing to overlook for now because there’s a Ben Folds song in the pilot and I’m a sucker. All of which is to say: Splitting Up Together deserves more than the lukewarm reception it received, if only on the basis of its proven showrunner, Emily Kapnek.