Why Splitting Up Together Is the Network Sitcom with the Most PotentialPhoto: ABC/Kelsey McNeal TV Features Splitting Up Together
I love a good network comedy. Sure, it’s not cool—all the hip kids are watching some streaming series I’ve never heard of on a platform that was invented yesterday. But there’s something so comforting and, yes, hilarious about a well-executed sitcom.
When I first pitched my editor a story on Splitting Up Together, I wanted to talk about how the show had surprised me and was more nuanced, and much funnier, than I ever thought it could be.
The story of a couple—Lena (Jenna Fischer) and Martin (Oliver Hudson)—who decide to separate but still live under the same roof raising their three children seemed, on the surface, limiting. After all, the only two ways for the show to go appeared to be to reunite the couple or have them permanently divorce. Both these things negate the entire premise.
But I like Fischer, and I really liked executive producer Emily Kapnek’s previous series, Suburgatory, so I decided to stick with the show. By the end of the first season (which aired this spring), I had made the greatest TV commitment a viewer can make: I gave the series a season pass. Fischer, in particular, is great as a woman who strives for perfection only to have a family and a husband who do not appreciate all that she does for them. And the show benefits from casting strong child actors as Martin and Lena’s three children: Olivia Keville as the droll Mae, Van Crosby as the quirky eldest son, Mason, and Sander Thomas as the even quirkier Milo.
The second season, which premiered in October, started off strong, with Lena and Martin briefly reuniting—only for Lena to discover that Martin’s girlfriend, Lisa Apple (Monica Barbaro), may be pregnant. She wasn’t, but for Lena the fact that Martin could have been so careless cemented her desire for divorce.
The season has also had some great guest stars. I will never tire of seeing Costa Ronin, who recurred as Oleg on The Americans and Yevgeny last season on Homeland, play Vlad, a contractor repairing the house. Using an actor known for his serious and somewhat villainous roles in a comedy is inspired casting that I can get behind. Fischer’s old The Office co-star, Angela Kinsey, also popped by as a real estate agent. “Do I know you?” Lena deadpanned in a cute wink-wink to the audience.
Since that episode, though, a funny thing happened on the way to me writing about how good the show was. Splitting Up Together got worse, leaning into its more clichéd, slapstick-y moments.
But fear not! I have a plan to fix the show:
1. Feature Diane Farr more. Farr stars as Lena’s sister, Maya. Maya is single and has decided to have a baby on her own. I’ve adored Farr since her days on Rescue Me. She has a delightful delivery and a knack for making even mundane comments funny. When Lena asks her sister if she’s told her new boyfriend that she’s pregnant, Maya replies, “No, but only because I’m a really big fan of hiding things that you don’t want other people to know about.” Farr made the line hilarious. The good news is, this week’s episode is very Maya-focused, which can only be a good thing.
2. Actually use all of the supporting cast. Bobby Lee and Lindsay Price co-star as best friends Arthur and Camille. They are funny and their subplots—like a recent one that found Camille stalking Lisa Apple—are entertaining, and also prevent the show from being in a continuous loop/rut of the “will they / won’t they” Lena-and-Martin situation.
3. Get Martin and Lena dating again. Season One’s best arc found Lena dating a much younger man (Trent Garrett) as she tried to find her footing after her separation. The best part of the whole storyline was that Martin never thought she could or would be dating, even as he was cavorting around with Lisa Apple. The arc hit upon the double standards men and women are held to. But we need to get both of them back into the dating world, stat. Ali Larter begins a guest arc as a new love interest for Martin on December 4, which is a very good thing.
4. Don’t lean too much into the characters idiosyncrasies. A too-intense Lena is not funny. I originally liked her back-and-forth rapport with Vlad, but in last week’s episode she was just mean, which wasn’t humorous at all. The premise was great. Anyone who’s had work done on their house knows how disruptive and upsetting it can be. It’s ripe for the sitcom treatment. But it’s a fine line, and Lena was far too condescending last week. The November 13 episode, which had Lena and Martin sabotaging each other, was truly a low point. He shrunk all her clothes. She got a dog that made Martin break out in hives. He put something in the water to ruin her hair. The show works when it treats Martin and Lena as intelligent people trying to do what is best for their family. Let’s get back to that.
Splitting Up Together airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .