This Show's Portrayal of Divorce Actually is Not Far Off
Jenna Fischer we love you. We loved you in The Office and we were ready to love you in almost anything…almost.
ABC's Splitting Up Together might have to fall in the almost category. While no one wants to be pigeonholed, when you think of Jenna Fischer you think of understated, funny, ironic, witty, etc. Splitting Up Together is cutesy, overstated, and serves up obvious punch-lines like hot cakes at IHOP.
Despite the ridiculousness of the almost exclusively white upper-class affluence this show is set in…from a socioeconomic perspective, it's portrayal of what divorce actually might look like is not far off. The fact is, the only reason this show is funny, is because middle class white people are choosing not to divorce like wealthier white people. "Isn't it funny we can't afford two 4-bedroom houses!? Isn't that funny?!!" No, not really. Working class people can't afford to divorce any other way. Splitting Up Together makes financial realities look light-hearted and fun because they had more to start with than most families in America. Oh, and because it's a sitcom on ABC.
When my parents divorced it meant my mom moved into a one-bedroom apartment. She slept in the living room on a daybed, and I slept in the "real room" so I could have a door to close for bedtime, playtime, etc. It wasn't because we were about to starve to death; it was just because we were working-class. We could afford to eat, to go to the movies occasionally, have potlucks, take classes at the rec center, etc.
My dad lived in a small house that he rented in a poorer part of town, but not the worst part of town. As a child I never went without food, electricity, etc., however because of the TV shows I watched and the school I went to, I thought I was being raised in poverty. One of the main reasons I felt "poor" was because I qualified for a full scholarship to private school and got to go to school with some of the wealthiest kids in my city. Had I gone to my local (partly gang-ridden) public school, I would have felt middle class, average, normal.
When it comes to shared-custody situations, the media usually shows wealthy divorces. Kids being shuttled around (and ignored) in the latest mini-van, a doting nanny, a self-absorbed single parent who hates the other self-absorbed single parent, etc. Usually the kids are caught in the middle, the parents don't get along, and they all go home to their beautifully furnished homes. There are problems, but they can afford to solve them without having to communicate in person with the co-parent. Large sums of alimony just magically fill bank accounts. This doesn't happen for most divorced families.
When you don't have lots of money, you might need to live close to your ex, perhaps even in the same house. You might have to take turns picking the kids up from school because you have shift work that is unstable and changes from week to week. You also might rely on each other's families for continued financial support, childcare, holiday observance, birthdays, etc. You don't send a nanny as a go-between, cleanly depositing your children at your former husband or wife's compound. Nope, you drive your own beat-up car to the agreed upon drop off location, and if you can't afford to move out of your ex's home, sometimes that means just walking to the basement apartment or next door (my parents lived in a side-by-side duplex at one point).
I'm sure you have heard of the "Kids Stay" model that suggests keeping kids in the same home and letting the divorced parents travel back and forth. It's so funny that white upper class people need to formalize this with fancy names, when poor people have been doing this for years. Who can afford two houses?! Upper class peeps.
So, if you are upper class, come from divorce, and were shuttled around by nannies, you will think this show is a real hoot. But if you remember staying in your pajamas, walking from your dad's kitchen, to your mom's "living room" you might not see what's so knee slappingly funny. You might just watch and think, wow, that house is beautiful and looks big enough to house four more people.
Keep it Real
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, is a writer, a personal coach, and even though she is very very fun (just ask her three-year-old daughter) due to her academic inclinations, always the pooper at the party. She works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding from her two children in her laundry room. More about her on her website.
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