A premise by itself can’t make a TV show great, but it can make it terrible. Such is the case with TV Land’s newest original sitcom, Happily Divorced, starring Fran Drescher. The set-up is so painfully unfunny and flimsy that, even 20 years ago, it would’ve seemed like a bad idea pitched by some hacky network executive.
On Happily Divorced, Fran’s husband of 18 years, Peter, wakes up suddenly one night in bed and announces that he’s gay. If you’re anything like me, you’ve already dismissed the entire series based on that simple premise.
Sadly, the show relies on that one joke to sustain an entire series, and the result is a sitcom as grating and annoying as Fran Drescher’s voice. In the right context, she can be very funny, but the material here is so weak that every joke just falls flat.
It’s a shame because Happily Divorced has assembled an impressive cast. Fran’s gay husband is played by John Michael Higgins, who you probably recognize as a regular in Christopher Guest films, most notably as half of the gay couple from Best in Show. Fran’s best friend is played by Everybody Hates Chris‘ Tichina Arnold and Fran’s mom is played by EGOT winner Rita Moreno (which means she’s won the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).
That’s a high-caliber cast, one that Happily Divorced and its tired and cliche jokes don’t deserve. It’s a problem TV Land has had before.
When the network first launched original scripted sitcoms with Hot in Cleveland, it landed an instant success, and TV Land has tried to replicate that ever since. The previous effort, Retired at 35, failed for many of the same reasons that Happily Divorced is a failure: a bad premise.
Based on Hot in Cleveland, it feels like TV Land thinks all it needs to do is get a bunch of former sitcom stars, put them on a show together, and let the magic happen. That’s misguided, and it’s why just throwing Fran Drescher or George Segal into a show isn’t enough to make it worth watching.
Hot in Cleveland is great because it honors the simplistic traditions of classic sitcoms. It’s just about the crazy situations that four women find themselves in. It’s not about a young man in a retirement community or a gay man living with his ex-wife. Sure, there was the initial premise of having three glamorous California women adjusting to life in the Midwest, but Hot in Cleveland doesn’t rely on that premise as a crutch.
Happily Divorced is a gimmick sitcom, a show where there’s some wacky and unusual premise to make it stand out. If the writing was good, it wouldn’t need the gimmick. Seinfeld was a show about nothing, Friends was just about a group of friends. The best sitcoms don’t have gimmicks, they just have funny characters and funny situations.
Happily Divorced has neither, and the sooner TV Land realizes why Hot in Cleveland is the only decent show it has, the sooner they can stop making sub-par comedies that try to replicate that success.
(Image courtesy of TV Land)