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The title of Bravo’s first scripted series, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, suggests that the show’s leading couple splits up. But do they have to?
Series creator Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is aware that many of her dramedy’s viewers are rooting for Abby (Lisa Edelstein) and Jake’s (Paul Adelstein) marriage to remain intact, and she doesn’t seem to think the idea is too far-fetched. “Their chemistry is ridiculous,” says Noxon, who insists that despite what happens between the pair, Abby and Jake will always be connected. “But how close or how distant they’ll be is going to vary.”
Ahead of this Tuesday’s episode, Noxon talks about what’s in store for Abby and Jake, the unbelievable note she received from the network and Janeane Garofalo‘s exit (and potential return).
Bravo is best known for the Housewives franchise and other over-the-top unscripted series. Why take Girlfriends’ Guide there?
It was at Showtime first, and then they just recognized that it was not high-concept enough in their minds, so they let us go. … When Bravo said that they were really interested, it made such perfect sense to me because there’s a little bit of lifestyle porn in it. They have this California sun-drenched, privileged life, and yet, like in the reality franchises Bravo has, behind the scenes these things are certainly not so great. It felt like an opportunity too, to take that even further and to places where I don’t think reality television is allowed to go.
Did you have any concerns about being the network’s first scripted series?
I think that going first on a network is an incredible opportunity. That’s actually something that I learned from Joss Whedon — it’s the power of low expectations. People don’t know what to expect, so a lot of the time their expectations are a little muted. [With Buffy the Vampire Slayer], the network was pushing really hard for it to be called Slayer. I said to Joss, “Why didn’t you call it that?” To be honest, I felt that the titled first turned me off because I related it to a failed movie. He said, “It’s the power of low expectations, and the title is really important because it sounds girly and ‘spuffy,’ and then the show is muscular and funny and raw.” I’ve never forgotten that. That is an advantage. The other interesting thing about Bravo is that they have a really educated, for the most part, well-off audience, so they’re watching other shows, like Game of Thrones, elsewhere. Why let them go away? If Housewives is their glass of white wine, maybe we can be their entree.
Who is the Girlfriends’ viewer?
Interestingly to me, more so than just divorced women, what we’re seeing in some of the research we’re getting is that working women are our bread and butter. I think that makes total and perfect sense because as much as there have been shows that have women with jobs, there haven’t been many shows that really examine women under financial pressure. Abby says in episode two, “I’m the household’s sole breadwinner.” I think that’s the case in a lot of households now, and I’ve been told again and again by women who are watching the show that this is their story. It’s just not being told very much and certainly not under the microscope that we’re putting it through.
The show pushes the envelope. What’s the craziest note you’ve received from the network?
In one episode, there’s a social media site that has a picture of a man who shows his junk, but it has a bow tie at the top of it. We obviously had to cut it off at a certain place, but the note came back saying there was too much pubic hair. Even though you could see the top of his junk, you couldn’t have the pubic hair. So we had to go in and digitally erase the pubic hair, but everything else was OK, implying that looking at an erection with a bow tie on it was fine. We deal with stuff like that where you’re like, “I cannot believe that we’re having this conversation.”
Divorce is hardly an upbeat topic. How concerned were you that creating a show around such a challenging life event could turn viewers off?
We talked about it, and at one point, there was a discussion about taking the word [“divorce”] out of the title. I really objected to that. We all came to the same conclusion that it’s about what it’s about. The Girlfriends’ Guide aspect mitigates some of the negativity. It’s not going to be the saddest thing in the world. I think some people might be afraid to check it out, but once you come in, the water is warm because it’s really just about life and a stage of life that can be both incredibly hard but also incredibly exciting and liberating. We’re really playing both sides of that coin. I think it’s just so ripe for good drama and good comedy. Also, people I talk to feel like they’re not alone, that there’s a girlfriend. They have a TV show that is talking to their experience, and they feel like, “Finally!” Hopefully there’s a lot of “me too” in the show.
Do Abby and Jake really have to get divorced?
No, and that was a fun discovery. We didn’t expect that. I certainly never would have thought I would create a show about divorce where the ultimate answer is that this couple shouldn’t be, but that’s real too. I’ve heard this story from a number of people who say, “My parents got divorced, and then they remarried three years later, and they’re still together.” So my mind has been open to that possibility, but certainly some of the other characters will stay divorced. We’ve already started to branch into other questions, like Delia is going to be dealing with whether she believes in marriage, period. She’s never been married, and honestly, she doesn’t see herself being married. Sexual politics is ripe for storytelling between Jake and Abby and all the characters. Potentially [Jake and Abby] take us to a place we didn’t think because their chemistry is ridiculous.
You recently said goodbye to series regular, Lyla (Garofalo), and added a new friend of Abby’s, Jo (Alanna Ubach). How was that transition?
It was pretty organic, and it’s really interesting because Alana, who I just adore, brought in this whole different energy. I saw her audition, and I thought she was the one, but at the time, I didn’t know that she was half Puerto Rican and that she speaks fluent Spanish. I didn’t know about her personally when she came in, and she had that energy. But stories start to flow really nicely, and the chemistry between the women was just there immediately. So we were pretty lucky, and that girl is game.
Will we see Lyla again?
Hopefully. She didn’t fall down an elevator shaft. That’s why we didn’t go full L.A. Law on her.
From vodka-soaked tampons to steamy sex scenes, are you surprised by how far the network allows you to push it sexually?
Honestly, a little bit, but in the most positive way. The f-word is our big Rubicon. I still don’t understand why we can say “shit” and not that, because among the women I know, we just drop the f-bomb with aplomb. We are fans of the artful f-bomb, so I wish we could do that. But other than that, I don’t think showing explicit sex is actually good for story. I think it takes people out of it. But sexy sex is awesome for story, and we’ve only used nudity — aside from tastefully during sex scenes — when we showed Paul’s fabulous ass, but that was pretty comedic.
Watch a sneak peak of episode 10, airing Tuesday, Feb. 3:
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