SJP’s ‘Divorce’: dark, witty, a bit sad and scarily on the nose

Television Review: ‘Divorce’, ‘The Missing’, ‘Henry Shefflin – Winning’

Sarah Jessica Parker stars in Sharon Horgan’s dark new comedy-drama, “Divorce”.

Sarah Jessica Parker stars in Sharon Horgan’s dark new comedy-drama, “Divorce”.


How do you reinvent yourself on TV when the world knows you as Carrie Bradshaw, journalist, fashionista and seeker after love, from Sex and the City? Sarah Jessica Parker has found a nifty way to make her small-screen comeback: hook up with the Irish writer, actor and comedian Sharon Horgan and come up with something dark, witty, a bit sad and scarily on the nose.

Divorce (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday) is the story of Frances (played by Parker), a wife and mother hitting 50 who realises that she no longer loves her husband, Robert (Thomas Haden Church) and decides that she still has time to save her own life. She wants an amicable split for the sake of the kids; Robert – a drink of water with a moustache – refuses to make it easy for her, and promises to “make your kids hate you”.

Forget everything you knew from Sex and the City. Horgan and Parker don’t go for gags and wisecracking observations about relationships but head straight for the dark side of married life – and find even richer comedy veins there. We men who squirmed through Sex and the City will want to short-circuit the TV just so our partners don’t have their own epiphanies and realise that we’re a waste of space.

Frances has her moment of awakening at her friend Diane’s 50th-birthday party. When Diane drunkenly tries to shoot her husband, causing him to have an enormous coronary, the light goes on in Frances’s head. While the medics and police are swarming around the house she grabs her opportunity to drop the D-bomb on Robert. It’s a superb set piece that showcases Horgan as the master of the party-gone-wrong scenario.

Haden Church is great as the solipsistic Robert, who handles this delicate situation with big baseball mitts and comes up with some cringingly awful man lines. But Parker has really found herself a new groove here: we’ve almost forgotten about Carrie whatshername.

The Missing (BBC One, Wednesday) is back for a second series, although with a whole new cast and storyline. This looks like the future for TV drama: the anthology series where the only recurring character is the overall idea. The theme for The Missing is once again the disappearance of a child, but this time the focus is not on the search but on what happens after the missing child is found.

The first series starred James Nesbitt as a father searching for his missing son. David Morrissey now stars as a British army sergeant, Sam Webster, Keeley Hawes as his wife, Gemma, and Jake Davies as their son, Matthew.

The Websters are stationed at a military base in Eckhausen, in Germany, where they have got on with their lives following the disappearance of their daughter, Alice, 11 years earlier. When a grown-up Alice suddenly shows up in the town centre, beaten and bruised, their lives are thrown back into turmoil.

One returning character is the French detective Julien Baptiste, played by Tcheky Karyo. Baptiste looked into the disappearance of a French girl back in 2003, and when he learns she may have been abducted by the same person who took Alice he comes out of retirement to investigate. His search for the abductor takes him first to Eckhausen and then to war-torn Iraq.

There’s a lot to keep up with here: the story jumps between 2014, when Alice is found, to the present day. The helpful subtitles tell us where and when we are in the story, although you can tell from the characters’ radically changed appearances and even the different camera work and music – and you couldn’t confuse the cold, snowy vistas of Eckhausen with the heat and dust of Iraq. (It was actually filmed in Belgium and Morocco.)

There are revelations and twists to keep us on our toes; the series’ creators, Harry and Jack Williams, are clearly out to confound our expectations, and so far they have been doing a good job of it. This is shaping up to be a very satisfying if rather harrowing tale of the unexpected.

Is your theme song We Are the Champions or I’m a Loser? Would you like to change the tune and become a real winner? Who better than the Kilkenny hurling great Henry Shefflin to give you the lowdown on winning? Okay, sending a multiple All-Ireland champ to find out how to be a sporting success is like sending Brad Pitt off to find out how to be a Hollywood A-lister or Harry Potter to learn how to cast spells. They already know how. Surely they should be sending the loser instead.

But Shefflin wants to know what goes on inside people’s heads, and what chemical reactions happen inside their bodies, when they’re winning. Do the same reactions happen in other competitive pursuits, such as business or politics? Can success be broken down into a formula that anyone can apply or is winning the preserve of the elite few with superhuman self-belief?

In Henry Shefflin – Winning (Monday, RTÉ One), the hurler talks to boffins who reveal the role of such chemicals as dopamine, which stimulates the reward centres of our brains; cortisol, which increases stress when you’re losing; and testosterone, which gets us all fired up to vanquish the opposition. He meets other people who have been successful in their sporting field, including the rugby great Paul O’Connell, the Olympic runner Sonia O’Sullivan and the golfer Shane Lowry.

It probably won’t surprise you to find that it’s not rocket science. Search for the hero inside yourself, don’t stop believin’, and reach for the stars seems to be the (musical) message here. Visiting the Phoenix Park to watch the deer rutting is probably labouring the point a bit, and watching stockbrokers squaring up was a bit surplus to requirements (we’ve seen The Wolf of Wall Street).

Still, we do learn that too much business success can create a “bubble” that will eventually burst, leaving us all in negative equity, and that too much political power can lead to Enda Kenny thinking that he’s God’s gift to the Irish electorate.

But you can never win too many All-Irelands. Obviously.

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