ABC’s latest comedy Splitting Up Together has one thing working against it: The Bachelor. If you’re one of the millions of people who watched Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s romantic “journey” unfold this winter, you were bombarded with countless trailers for the Jenna Fischer family sitcom in between all the “I love that’s.” At first, the two ABC series seemed at odds, since The Bachelor is all about finding the kind of love that will last a lifetime and Splitting Up, about a married couple announcing their unconventional divorce plan, serves as a constant reminder of what happens when Bachelor Nation’s ideals fall through. Then, by the end of this Bachelor season, Splitting Up’s breakup previews only became harsher and darker as Arie split up from fiancée Becca Kufrin in real, tear-stained time.
In essence, Splitting Up, premiering Tuesday, March 27, made an indelible connection with a much-loathed, humor-free season of television.
So, I immediately dreaded beginning the Fischer-Oliver Hudson comedy. But in the same way no one should judge Lauren Burnham for her continued connection with her “race car driver” fiancé, no one should blame Splitting Up for ABC’s marketing decisions. Especially since the sitcom is an unexpectedly mature delight.
The series owes its shockingly adult bend to how Lena (The Office's Fischer, trying to prove she's more than merely Pam Beesly) and Martin (Hudson) actually end up sharing an address following their breakup, which is the entire twist of the show. If you weren’t seriously paying attention to all those trailers, you would assume the now-exes are literally remaining roommates, which is more than ill-advised. But, that’s not the game that is afoot here.
Rather, one “on-duty” parent lives in the house with the pair's three kids for a week, while the other parent shacks up in the impossibly well-designed (but centipede-infested) garage. The adult in the official house is in charge of all parenting and rule-making, while the person in the garage is barred from such activities, leaving them time to work on themselves. Once the week is up, Lena and Martin switch, and so forth into infinity.
With this kind of setup, it would be easy to let Lena slip into the “crazy” ex trope and show her constantly stalking her hunky ex’s every move. After all, within the series premiere, an attractive young woman (Kelsey Asbille) appears in the duo’s backyard to ask Lena where Martin — who, by the way, already has the greatest collection of sweaters on television — is staying. A lesser show would have followed up that introduction with Lena and her pack of lady friends spying on Martin’s bachelor pad. But, Splitting Up Together doesn’t stoop to that level. Rather, Lena simply stays in her chair and downs another glass of wine.
By keeping Lena from becoming another jealous stereotype, we’re able to go on some pretty wild adventures with her. When she acts as the “garage parent,” the mom-of-three is allowed to figure out who she is when she’s not fretting over her children or desperately wishing her husband would notice her. That means we learn her actual desires — “I need passion and romance and sex,” she rages over vino to her pals — and get to enjoy the sitcom-y antics that go along with chasing them. That means awkward text messaging, failed first kisses, and, yes, even some legitimately sexy rendezvous. While you wouldn’t expect to see car sex in an ABC family sitcom, Splitting Up Together is here to surprise you.
That’s why all viewers should preemptively be ready to have a crush on Wes (Trent Garrett), the kind of impossibly handsome love interest who knows all the best food trucks, says all the right, genuine things, and still doesn’t even look silly in a beanie hat. Wes has his waterfall of luxurious hair to thank for that last stunning attribute.
Although Splitting Up does work hard to prove Wes is a total dreamboat, it makes nearly as good of a case for Martin and all of his wonderful sweaters. In the same way the comedy avoids making Lena a caricature of an “insane” ex-ish wife, it avoids demonizing Martin. Instead, the sitcom makes a case that its romantic lead is both legitimately oblivious to most things (he comes to a great, awkward realization in episode 3, “Street Meat”) and a man who believed he would never live up to his wife’s lofty standards. Could Martin have tried just a little bit harder? Yes, of course. It’s pretty obvious he gave himself an easy out. But is Oliver Hudson also so ridiculously charming you kind of see Martin’s puppy dog side? Unfortunately, yes. I'm only human.
While most new shows suffer from secondary-character flimsiness, this one doesn’t because it immediately understands who the people who make up Lena and Martin’s life are. Lena’s very single sister Maya (Diane Farr) adds some necessary sass to the proceedings, but also brings emotional heft as she begins to question whether motherhood is in her future. Married duo Lisa (Monica Barbaro) and Arthur (Bobby Lee) are totally in love, totally self-obsessed, and total weirdos. They're a trip. And, Lena and Martin’s feminist daughter Mae (Olivia Keville) is the immediate breakout among the kids, with her constant judging-you tweenage scowl and Male Tears mug.
Though Splitting Up is filled with a lovable cast of characters and some inspired choices, it’s important to point out it’s not the kind of boundary-breaking comedy that’s going to change the TV game for good. You will never confuse this with Atlanta. Rather, in the vein of the best ABC comedies, it’s a fun look at family worth unwinding with for roughly 22 minutes.
And, for that reason alone, it's already better than anything Arie Luyendyk Jr. tricked us into watching.
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