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. 

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  1. LK says:

    Thanks for flagging this for us. I've put it in my queue and will watch it soon.
    Since until now the closest thing on TV to reflecting our experience was Will & Grace, I'm anxious to see what they do.
    I'm inclined to see this as positive because it's still a kind of taboo subject. I'd love for this to have some aura of normalcy about it -- even if it has to start with sitcom normalcy as a starting point.
    Of course, that's all before I've seen it. It may just be awful and too hard to watch, too.
    The question now is: do I wait and watch it with my own Glee-loving, chest-shaving "Peter," or watch it by myself first...

  2. Nymariarya says:

    I agree that the comedy genre does not suit this subject matter. If the show was a one-hour dramedy, it could dig deeper. If they get too serious, the comedy fails. I've not seen the most-recent episode but I've only seen one episode that touched on her anger but she got over it by the end of the episode. NOT realistic. I'm not particularly fond of the punchlines that focus so much on the fact that people NOT in our situation think it's funny. It really isn't funny. None of it.
    My hope is that she makes mention of the Straight Spouse Network at some point. One of those blurbs at the end would be enough to help even if the show can't get much deeper.

  3. Gail Storey says:

    Carol, your post makes an excellent point (several, actually), about how a sitcom can make light of real pain. I agree with you that it may be good to bring the dilemma into mainstream consciousness, though. Let's hope it does more good than harm.

  4. Jerrie Hurd says:

    I have problems with most sit-coms because they deal with problems in half an hour that the rest of need half a lifetime to grasp.
    Liked Seinfield because they dealt with silly urban things that didn't really matter which I thought was a smart understanding of television's limitations.

  5. Janice says:

    Hi Carol,
    Thank you for posting this. As I live in the UK, it's possible that this sitcom won't cross the Atlantic, but I'm happy to share my thoughts nevertheless.
    On the face of it, it appears that a sitcom format is a completely inappropriate way to communicate the pain and heartache when your partner comes out. But does the programme aim to do that? If the aim is to let people know that some gay men and lesbian women experience unspoken pressure to marry and have children, with the inevitable fallout, then all well and good. It might just challenge homophobia; if it achieves that aim then I support it 100%.
    If the programme wants to go deeper than that and explore the pain and heartache in a meaningful and truthful way, then they will need a gifted comedic dramatist to convey painful messages with a light touch. If a writer can do that every week in 20 minute timeslots - give that person an award! Comedy can be a very powerful tool to communicate serious or painful truths, but it needs a gifted writer.
    I've not seen any episodes but if the show portrays the woman's anger being resolved in one episode... well, what can I say apart from to wonder how deeply is it rooted in the star's personal experience. Or has that just been put about in order to give the programme credibility?

  6. Louella Christy Komuves says:

    As usual, you expressed in such an intelligent, caring manner exactly what I feel regarding the new TV "comedy." To be honest, I've heard about it but have chosen (at this point) not to even watch it because I believe the subject is far from funny! Besides that, I could never stand to watch Fran Drescher when she was "The Nanny" because of her nasal voice -- also her comments were always filled with "whines!" My biased opinion.
    Really appreciate what you shared in the link here. You're such a gifted writer -- so filled with wisdom and insights. Keep up the great job you are doing.
    Am pleased to share that my book - Silent Sagas: Unsung Sorrows -- Heterosexual Wife, Homosexual Husband is now on Kindle and Nook. Have been asked by a local news anchor to be on her show. Hopefully, more persons can further know we, straight spouses, are no longer alone... life can be filled with blessings day by day.
    Louella Christy Komuves

  7. GVR says:

    Fran's show fell short. I know it's about her life, but my life living with my gay husband of 33 years and his boyfriend is much funnier. 🙂

  8. Red Tulips says:

    I don't watch sitcoms and have never seen "Happily Divorced" but I know I would not find anything funny about it at all. And I can't imagine living in the same house or any kind of building with an ex just coming out of the closet. The positive side is allowing viewers to see that these marriages do exist and maybe start a conversation about it.

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