Bravo's Girlfriends' Guide: A Different, Scripted Breed of Reality TV


Bravo TV’s first scripted series premieres Tuesday, marking a major move for the network whose slogan was previously “Watch What Happens,” a nod to its all-reality-TV-all-the-time programming.

Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce was inspired by Vicki Iovine’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” book series, which includes The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy and The Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back. The hour-long drama (although, it’s a drama in the way that Orange Is the New Black is a drama) stars Lisa Edelstein as Abby McCarthy, an Iovine-like self-help guru whose marriage falls apart just in time for the release of her latest book about maintaining a happy, healthy marriage. Girlfriends’ shows Abby navigating a new world of being single in her 40s, features of which include incredibly awkward hook-ups, her husband’s much younger girlfriend and fellow newly-divorced friends. If these sound like rich white lady problems, that’s because they are.

Let’s start with the rich part, because everyone on this show is very rich. Abby’s coven of divorcées is rounded out by a former model who embodies just about every stereotype about Los Angeles—from the boob jobs to the hippie-dippy lifestyle—and a high-powered lawyer named Layla who is described as fighting a War of the Roses-style battle with her ex-husband that sees her sabotaging him in order to gain custody of their children.

Marti Noxon, the creator and executive producer of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, who previously worked on Grey’s Anatomy and Mad Men, says that it was a deliberate choice to focus on this particular tax bracket. Much of the show is rooted in Noxon’s own experiences and the experiences of her friends, who happen to exist in a circle of wealthy white women.

The economic homogeneity of this show is matched by its overwhelming whiteness. Almost everyone on the show is white: In the first episode, the only non-white people we hear speak are a school teacher and the husband of Abby’s brother. Future episodes will introduce Abby’s divorce lawyer Delia, played by Iranian-American actress, Necar Zadegan. Noxon admitted that the show has a diversity problem that she wants to address, although she didn’t say when or how.

I like to see diversity in television, but I can also recognize when it does and does not make storytelling sense. Nobody expects to see many black people in, say, Pride and Prejudice and frankly, as three-quarters of white people don’t have any non-white friends, I wouldn’t expect to see many people of color in the world of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce. Besides, Bravo is certainly not the place to go if you aren’t interested in lives of wealthy white women.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the show couldn’t have simply included more people of color, because that’s the beauty of fiction—you can do whatever the hell you want. Particularly, the issue of diversity seems relevant to any show that is trying to touch on shifts in contemporary society, which Girlfriends‘ is explicitly aiming to do. When I spoke to Noxon, she explained that she wanted to create a show that captured this particular time in our society: when it’s becoming more common for women to out-earn their spouses and have to deal with the gender politics that arise from that.

We see these issues plainly during an argument between Abby and her husband Jake, played by Paul Adelstein. Jake makes a disparaging remark about her books, and Abby snaps back that those books “paid for your film school.” But the show keeps this “current” focus very narrow: the world of these characters is changing in this certain way, but in very few others.

Once you get past that and resign yourself to caring about rich white lady problems for sixty minutes, it’s a rather entertaining story about female relationships and the obstacles that arise when going through a divorce. Watching Abby pick up a guy—the first man she’s been with since her husband—elicited an enormous amount of second-hand embarrassment from me, which I imagine was exactly the point.

Bravo was smart to pick up Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce as its first scripted series because, in many ways, it’s like a better, (more) scripted version of a Real Housewives franchise. (The network had been looking at scripts for quite a while before it settled on this one.) More importantly, at least to Bravo, that same Real Housewives audience that has made the network so successful will likely follow the near-identical themes straight to Girlfriends’. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which just scored its highest season premiere in three years, will be the lead-in for Girlfriends’, and I imagine it will be a fairly seamless transition for the audience.

Bravo is where you go to escape your own life with a more dramatic, opulent and often ridiculous “reality.” When writing the show, Noxon said that one of the most important questions she and the other writers asked was: “Is this honest—would this really happen?” You can certainly feel this attempted priority when watching, and in this way, it’s a different breed of reality for Bravo: one that’s scripted, and simultaneously more true-to-life.

Still, all it takes is a wide shot of an immaculate Hollywood Hills homes, a boutique shopping scene or the catch phrase-esque dialog, before you’re reminded of what channel you’re watching. For the Girlfriends’ audience, there’s likely nothing wrong with that.

Images via NBC Universal.

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