Whatever you may say about Bravo, you can’t say they don’t have a brand. The merest whisper of the name of a network that once showed broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic now conjures up a mysterious land of cocktail dresses, thrown drinks, and unhinged “Angry Skinny Ladies,” as my husband calls every version of the Real Housewives franchise. (To use it in a sentence: “Every time I come home and see you watching the Angry Skinny Ladies again, a little piece of my love for you falls away.”)
Bravo’s first scripted series, Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, falls neatly into the high-heels and messy personal lives demographic, but its main character, Abby McCarthy, played by House M.D’s Lisa Edelstein (and yes, Abby is Jewish; the McCarthy comes from her philandering and directionless soon-to-be ex-husband, whose father is in fact Jewish despite the surname) is significantly smarter, more successful, and much more stylish than her sinewy and ongepotchket reality counterparts. Abby, a hugely successful self-help author, is one of those sophisticated women you see bustling about L.A. in a Rick Owens leather jacket and a discreetly designer bag, who makes apparent “approachability” (the key word here is “apparent”) into an art form.
More significantly, Abby has no identification with “housewife-dom.” She—like her friend Lila, played by Janeane Garofalo, a welcome and much-missed presence onscreen—is the primary breadwinner, the person on whom the entire family relies to finance their chic glass box in the Hollywood Hills and the tuition at her children’s swanky center of progressive education. Her husband, Jake, is an independent filmmaker, which is Hollywood code for “unspecified freelancer”—as Abby’s publicist, wittily played by Carrie Fisher, points out when Abby tells her Jake is “prepping to shoot an indie.” “So is our waiter,” comes the reply. This is a world in which the female characters call the financial shots, which, as anyone who has been married long enough knows, are the only shots that matter. When Lila, a high-powered attorney, casually mentions shelling out $50,000 a month in child support to her underemployed ex, my jaw dropped with envy and delight. If this is what a certain kind of modern-day aspirational feminism looks like, count me in.
Also interesting in the series is the setting. A decade ago, Manhattan was the only place a story like this would be set, suitable for sweeping shots of skyscrapers and shots of expensively dressed women teetering down sidewalks at ludicrous speeds; today, L.A. is the center of glamorous cultural aspiration. Maybe L.A. has gotten cooler, or maybe it’s a sign that the merely very rich have discovered that the weather in Brentwood is a lot better than it it in Brooklyn. L.A. is beautiful, it’s full of female-friendly industries, and the standard of living is great. After all, you don’t need Mr. Big to build you a closet when you get this much square footage. Might Los Angeles be an unexpected feminist paradise? Why not? Sisterhood is powerful, especially if it’s gluten-free.