The summer premier of a new television situation comedy, “Happily Divorced,” arouses mixed emotions, particularly for straight spouses. Fran Drescher, formerly of “The Nanny,” stars as a florist married 18 years to her real estate agent husband, Peter, who “thinks he might be gay.” After he comes out in the first episode, their story will unfold as they remain in the same household, each pursuing social and sexual happiness with others.
Rooted in Drescher’s actual experience with her high school sweetheart and former husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, the series could possibly offer genuine insight into the dilemma faced by mixed-orientation couples. But the sit-com format makes that possibility remote--even though the two main characters are named Fran and Peter and the series concept is drawn from their history together. What the series cannot express adequately is the pain of years of loss, grief, therapy, and healing that such couples endure in real life.
Even with the limitations of TV comedy, it is interesting that these former spouses have reached an understanding which allows them to continue to work together as creative partners, though they are now divorced and living separate lives—she as a single woman and he as a gay man.
It is impossible to depict in any comedy the searing drama of a partner’s coming out within a marriage. That just isn’t funny! Even with an amicable divorce or some alternative agreement that keeps the spouses uneasily together, the reality is not the material of jollity. The best outcome after healing (often years later) is continuing friendship and an occasional wry smile about some of the ironic details. Raucous laughter about it is rare indeed.
Reading the Los Angeles Times’ review of the sit-com’s pilot gives faint hope that the new series will delve beyond the superficial: “Peter’s gayness is composed of gags about shaving chest hair, wanting to move to West Hollywood … and how Fran and he both like men.” As anyone who has lived through the pain of a coming-out event, there is a lot more to talk about—like reconstructing a meaningful future for both partners.
Surprisingly, there is an element of hope and good news here. That is the fact that mainstream culture is becoming more aware of mixed-orientation marriages. Shows like these offer the public a small glimpse at their aftermath. Perhaps it is a sign of societal advancement that coming out within marriage may be material for affectionate comedy instead of grim tragedy. However, those of us who have lived through the entire experience—from the shock of discovery through many hard-won stages of recovery and rebuilding--know that this is just not funny.