By Emily Wilson
This article was retrieved from Volume 15 Issue 5.
It’s a beautiful thing when beloved actresses and actors make reappearances on brand new television shows, and it’s an interesting experience to see them play entirely different characters with new names, new looks, and new personalities. Actress Jenna Fischer, renowned for her role as Pam Beesly on “The Office”, has returned to the spotlight in the sitcom “Splitting Up Together”. Being “The Office” fan that I am, I was excited about her comeback to the screen in this brand new show, however, upon watching the first two episodes of the series, I was underwhelmed, to say the least.
“Splitting Up Together” follows the story of a couple whose marriage is reignited by their divorce. Jenna Fischer seems to be the only well-known actor on the screen, but I was not put off by the less-seasoned actors, as I find it interesting to see new talent. The show boasts seven prominent celebrity executive producers, including Ellen DeGeneres.
Although only the first two episodes have been released on Hulu, this series proves to be mundanely predictable, as it is riddled with cliches. The suburban, southern California family lifestyle is one which viewers are all too familiar with, as it’s been done countless times before in shows like “Malcolm in the Middle”, “Modern Family”, “George Lopez”, several Disney Channel programs, and more. The fact that “Splitting Up Together” follows this tired media trend makes the series feel unoriginal. At this point, this particular setting is just an excuse for plot convenience. This way, the producers can spend as little money and effort as possible shooting in L.A., instead of setting the show elsewhere.
The show also seems to be moving remarkably fast, by the second episode we’ve already seen the couple’s first attempts to harmonize. For example, at the beginning of episode 2, the parents fight over a warm comforter and whose bed it gets to stay in. By the end, the father (Oliver Hudson) surrenders it to the mother (Jenna Fischer) by tucking it neatly on her bed, an act which she glows over. This may not seem like a big step, but from the first episode when their relationship was disheartening at best, this is all-telling of the plot’s direction. The couple’s troubles have just barely been spotlighted, yet, they’re already making strides to fix their marriage. If the first, perhaps, five episodes (at least) had been focused on the couple’s failing marriage and why it came to be that way, then the small healing gestures would have been more meaningful and less rushed. Also, the storyline would have remained unforeseeable for a longer period of time. With this major turning point already passed, I wonder how long the writers will be able to sustain their own plot without being boring or repetitive, or changing direction altogether. This obstacle could have been avoided had “Splitting Up Together” been made into a movie rather than a series.
Acting ability is, unfortunately, another area of concern, but not just for the less experienced actors. Surprisingly, Jenna Fischer seems to be the cast member who is most lacking in acting skills despite her famous nine-year run on “The Office”. Her character on “Splitting Up Together” is a nervous, desperate woman who says what is on her mind, the complete opposite of her former role as Pam Beesly. Her acting now seems incredibly forced and unnatural, yet still animated to the point of unbelievability. I found myself growing increasingly tired with the constant enthusiasm from Fischer on screen, although the opposite was likely her goal. This type of character does not fit her personal style, and after seeing her in this role, I can say that the more spirited her character gets, the more boring it is to see her play it.
In 2016, her lead role in “Man with a Plan” was recast because she lacked “chemistry” with Matthew LeBlanc according to producers, but after seeing the pilot of “Splitting Up Together”, I would guess that the real reason for this was her sub-par acting skills.
To give credit where credit is due, I must say that the premise of this series is pioneering in the world of film. The idea of a couple growing closer together through the very thing that was to bring them apart is dawning. I always appreciate a new story being told and I think this plot has potential to be comical yet moving at the same time. Of course, the plot’s originality is credited to the show’s first creators, as this series is based on the Danish show of the same name. Execution of this story is key, and after only the first two episodes, I already see many mistakes.
Overall, ABC’s “Splitting Up Together” has been wildly disappointing, however, I do plan to continue watching it see which new elements are introduced. It’s not-so-baffling 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating is telling of the bad note this series began on. If anything is to prevent this story from reaching its full potential, it’s the rapid plot progression and the dreadful acting.