“Happily Divorced” isn’t what you might expect.
The TV Land program is steeped in nostalgia, and from the opening credits and theme song, it’s clearly a Fran Drescher vehicle.
Honestly, the first impression is “The Nanny II.”
Whacky, frothy and saturated with Drescher’s distinctive voice and physical comedy, the comedian offers fresh fodder for those who graze on reruns of “The Nanny” or even “I Love Lucy.”
But when all’s said and done, “Happily Divorced” has something to say about deeper issues, and that’s where this program parts company with lots and lots of preconceived notions.
The plot is adult, current and unfortunately, far too common: a married, middle-aged couple are rocked by the husband’s late-life revelation of his true sexuality. He’s gay, and after years of marriage, he’s finally ready to come out. It’s a tragic, far too common situation that gay men live the big lie for any number of reasons, both valid and imagined. But as Phoenix’s own late Erma Bombeck once quipped:
“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
Watching Drescher negotiate her pain makes you wonder if there’s any line at all and in a way, it’s inspiring.
Drescher and real life ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, make light of a highly personal issue. “Happily Divorced” is based on their marriage and consequently, their divorce.
Peter Marc Jacobson talks about life with Fran Drescher
Jacobson had a few minutes to talk from the Studio City, Calif., studio where another episode of “Happily Divorced” was in rehearsal for taping later that afternoon.
"What people don’t realize is it’s not exactly how the show is. It’s based on our life, but it’s not our actual life. We got divorced for other reasons,” he said.
“If you trace it back, what happened was that I was living in denial, burying down who I really was. When you bury something down like that it comes out in different ways. I would be very controlling and I would get very angry and we would get into a lot of fights and eventually, that’s what killed the marriage. We were working together, fighting constantly, living together and she wanted out. She wasn’t happy.”
There’s no doubt it was devastating.
The Drescher/Jacobson union was legendary for professional success, perceived happiness and great longevity. The two had met in Jamaica Queens at Hill Crest High School at the tender age of 15.
“I begged her to stay, thinking I could change. She knew at that point that I was at least bi-sexual, though I wasn’t acting on it, and finally she just said, ‘I want out’. I was really angry with her, because I wasn’t dealing with the real problem of who I was. I was continuing to bury it down. A year later, we didn’t speak,” Jacobson said.
“But then, I heard she’d been diagnosed with cancer. I called, and the anger went away,” he said.
“Some time after that, when she was promoting a book about dealing with cancer, I told her that I was dating guys. I couldn’t even say I was gay at that point,” he said, laughing.
“She was already dating someone 16 years younger than me, so it wasn’t such a big blow.”
Jacobson continues his story
“Everyone’s story is different. I grew up not even knowing what gay really was, and now there’s a lot more information out there. A child can watch ‘Glee’ and say, ‘Hey, I identify with those kids.’ It’s a lot easier for some to come out now,” he said.
“If you touch one person with a show, then it’s a show worth having,” Peter concluded.
In one of the promo shots for “Happily Divorced,” Drescher as always, looks gorgeous. She’s leaning against a chair where TV husband John Michael Higgins lounges in full gay regalia: robed, mud-masked, hair pushed back by a Velcro head band, holding sparkling water with lime in one hand and a magazine in the other.
He’s the picture of girl’s day at the spa.
The first instinct may be to take offense at a stale, overused stereotype: the vain and foppish middle-aged homosexual. It’s a picture that is no less offensive than black or the Frito Bandito.
Or is it?
Is that too sensitive? Too politically correct?
Though I personally have never used a headband, I have enjoyed mud masks, sparkling water, magazines and, yes, spa days. Lots of gay and straight men have.
So is this laughable stereotype fair? And is it all the more so because it’s been put out there by a gay man? And is this a potential “come to Jesus moment” for all the millions of gay men out there, aping marriage and making their women and children miserable?
Who’d have thought The Nanny could make us think so much?
Wednesday, 10:30 pm PT
Kurt Niece is a freelance journalist from Tucson, Ariz., and author of "The Breath of Rapture." He writes about television for SDGLN. He is also an artist who sells his work on his website.