TV Land has cornered the market on retro sitcoms – most notably the Betty White starrer Hot in Cleveland. The channel’s niche of putting former TV stars back to work had 3rd Rock from the Sun‘s Kristen Johnston for The Exes, and The Nanny‘s Fran Drescher in Happily Divorced.
Based on Drescher’s real-life experience of having her husband come out as gay, Drescher stars as Fran Lovett, an L.A. florist who just found out her realtor husband Peter (John Michael Higgins) is gay. Because of the crash in the housing market, Peter and Fran can’t move out of their home.
To say that Happily Divorced is old-fashioned would be an understatement. Watching this show, you’re not sure if you’re watching The Nanny or Will & Grace. The gay jokes are so stale and hoary. Because of Glee, Modern Family and Ugly Betty gay characters have been mainstreamed to a lot of audiences. Happily Divorced trades in on dated early 90s gay humor that finds gay characters exotic and cartoony. In this world, gay men love flowers, dancing, wearing shiny clothes and using beauty products. These jokes aren’t offensive – they’re too hokey. It’s only references to the financial crisis that remind viewers that we’re not in 1995 anymore.
Watching through these episodes, a smile or two was cracked and I got some chuckles. If there’s anything that’s selling this show is its cast – namely Drescher. This is basically an older version of Fran Fine, the titular character of The Nanny – though she looks eerily unchanged in the decade and some change since the older show went off the air. She still has a great way with one liners, and her comic timing is undimmed from the years since she’s been on television; Drescher isn’t a subtle actress, but she’s a sharp comedienne. As her gay ex-husband, Higgins does the best he can with his thinly written role. As Fran’s mom, Oscar-winner Rita Moreno also does some good work, though the role’s a creaky Jewish mom bit. Former Martin actress, Tishina Arnold scores some laughs, as well, but her role, like the others, is also essentially a type: the sassy black girlfriend.
The show has some potential, once it gets over “gays are funny” and “gays are different” jokes. The show’s stale routine rests on Drescher’s estimable charms and talent, but she needs stronger material that brings out her special post-Borscht Belt schtick.