Don't expect a Sex and the City reboot -- there's not  much of either in this sadder-but-wiser show about a couple foundering in midlife

By Tom Gliatto
Updated October 09, 2016 06:44 PM

Jimmy Choos aren’t much use on the steeper, farther slopes of life. You need thick boots, and maybe a pickax.

This is by way of orienting you to Sarah Jessica Parker’s smart but thorny new HBO show Divorce, her first series since the iconic (and very different) Sex and the City. Do not expect Mr. Big or gossipy downtown brunches with the girls.

Frances (Parker), a corporate headhunter with two kids, suddenly realizes she’s sick of her 17-year marriage to Robert (Thomas Haden Church, whose air of deep-rooted irritability — as if he wanted to shake sand out of his soul — finds a terrific outlet here). Frances’s motives aren’t clear, and they aren’t pure (she’s having a fling, for one thing). Nor is she in all that much of a hurry to break free: It’s just that her discontent has crystalized after attending a disastrous party at the house of another middle-aged couple (Molly Shannon and Tracy Letts, an excellent actor who’s the opposite of Haden Church: His irritability lives and breathes on the surface — he’s like human sandpaper).

Divorce is casually messy, both in tone and appearance: The show begins during a snowy winter, and you get the sense that everyone is dragging in slush with both their boots and their behavior. The messiness will be familiar to anyone who’s watched Catastrophe. Sharon Hogan, who stars in that terrific Amazon series, created Divorce, and it seems to be of a piece with her comic philosophy: When you’re handed lemons, hit them with a mallet and smear the pulp over every available surface.

She and Sex and the City would not have made a snug fit.

If Divorce is less raucous than Catastrophe (it is), that’s probably because of the particular temperament of Parker, who’s always been good at suggesting a bright spirit in danger of being dimmed by circumstance. She’s an enduringly captivating actress, and this forlorn new role expresses the same longing that animated Sex’s Carrie: To want romantic fulfillment may be a delusion — but what else is worth wanting?

Divorce premieres on HBO on Sunday at 10 p.m.