'Divorce' Season 2: Jenny Bicks and Thomas Haden Church on the calm after Robert and Frances's storm

Victoria Leigh Miller
Thomas Haden Church and Sarah Jessica Parker in Divorce (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

No doubt about it, the first season of Divorce was dark. Not only did Sarah Jessica Parker’s long-awaited, post-Sex and the City project feature a Manolo-free leading lady, but she was dealing with the end of a long marriage, an angry ex (Thomas Haden Church), two sullen kids, and a self-centered group of friends, including a lover who may or may not have been French.

The first season of the HBO dramedy ended with Frances (Parker) getting pulled over by the police for taking her kids (played by Sterling Jerins and Charlie Kilgore) out of town during her ex-husband Robert’s custody time — a jaunt he verbally approved just so he could hurt her. It was an ugly ending to a tumultuous season that had the original showrunner, Paul Simms, departing the show over creative differences. Jenny Bicks, a familiar name from Parker’s SATC days, came in with a new vision as showrunner, which introduces a whole new tone in the second season, premiering Jan. 14.

“This is the picking up of the pieces,” Bicks tells Yahoo Entertainment. “There was that explosion at the end of Season 1, literally, of [Frances] on the side of the road. What now? How do you put it all back together, and how do you move forward?”

In separate calls, she and Church previewed five things to expect.

1. A lighter tone

Jenny Bicks: It was very important that I infused some joy and hope and fun into the show. For me, it had reached a place of being so bleak and truthful, in a great way. But now I wanted to make sure, especially when you look at the actors that I have, it’s like, “Oh my God, you have to take advantage of what they can do.” So to tell those stories that are a little bit lighter and a little bit more fun, but still keep it real — that was important.

Thomas Haden Church: We set out to tell a story the first season — we clearly did want some humor and some drama. [It turned out to be] a bit more heart-wrenching, about not just a marriage, but a family being torn apart. After the season was over and everybody and critics saw it, what was sort of the consensus was not only did we end up in a pretty dark place, but the season has kind of been defined by a darker sensibility about what was happening with the family. And our conversations throughout the break, we wanted it to be done. Everybody wanted it to be more hopeful, and bring in elements that were going to sort of newly evaluate not only this relationship between Frances and Robert, but the family. It’s like a new beginning.

2. A tiny time jump

Bicks: It picks up about a month later. Coming in, for me, it was hard to imagine how to go past that moment on the road. It was so explosive and so awful and dark. I didn’t want to start the second season right back in that emotional place, so I took a little time jump. They are signing divorce papers. I wanted to take them to that next level of: OK, this is a show called Divorce, what now? How do we now behave as official divorced people? I think there is that kind of sense of relief in a way, like OK, now we can move forward. It’s complicated, because these people are still in their life, and they have kids together. Nothing is as easy as they think it’s going to be. Frances is trying to keep the stability of the home. Especially in that first episode, she’s trying so hard to kind of start afresh and make this home a home — have rules and guidelines so [her kids] can feel secure. And Robert, by the nature of the fact, doesn’t really have a place to live. He is more of the fun dad. He is the one who’s going to let you eat Saltines for dinner if you want. That gets him into some trouble, as you see later in the season, in terms of parenting.

Church:  [Robert and Frances] are always going to be together because they have children. Yeah, we signed the divorce papers, move on, other people come into our lives, [but] it’s never really over — and not just because of the kids. In the second season, we wanted to get into more of who Robert was: get a little bit of the terrain behind where he came from and how [he and Frances] met, who they were early on and who were some of the people in his life, obviously before he even met Frances.

Becki Newton (Jackie) and Church in Divorce (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

3. New love interests for Robert and Frances played by Becki Newton (Jackie) and Steven Pasquale (Andrew)

Bicks: We have Jackie, who is the main love interest for Robert. She is a real estate agent with a kid. All of the things that Frances found annoying about Robert, Jackie thinks are adorable and out there, and she dresses him up and sparkles him up a little bit. She brings out his best self. I think that was important to us, too. We felt like Robert had been down that first season, and we wanted to give him some mystery.

Church: In the beginning, Jenny asked me how I felt about [Robert finding a new girlfriend], and I had no partiality. I kind of liked the idea of Robert being a loner and alone, and I told her that. And what I realized after watching the first season back again is that Robert really was alone a lot. Even though in the first few episodes he’s still living in the house, there is an isolation to him emotionally. He had become emotionally isolated from Frances, from the kids, from his friends, and that was something that I didn’t really like. And so after looking at it, and this complete lack of companionship on many levels, I was like, “You know what, maybe it would be refreshing to see him have a real interest in someone else.” And then when he meets Jackie, he doesn’t know it — in that moment, it’s the last thing he wants. Robert doesn’t really know what he’s searching for. Robert is a very guarded guy. He met someone that he can sincerely drop his guard for, and that’s the unknown.

Steven Pasquale (Andrew) and Parker in Divorce (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

Bicks: And for Frances, we have Andrew. He comes into her life being set up via Diane and Nick [played by Molly Shannon and Tracy Letts]. They have a good time together. It starts with something that’s not necessarily going to be forever, and she wants to keep it light. But I think the important part is that the relationship accelerates more than it normally would because she is feeling the pressure of the eyes on her, from Robert and the kids. How do you have a casual relationship with kids around?

4. Robert’s mustache is gone.

Bicks: It was its own character [in Season 1]. It had its own Zip code, its own address. It was significant, and that was another thing, when I was kind of like, “We are getting rid of that mustache in the first episode.” I think what’s cool about it, in a way, is it was his hiding mechanism in that first season. You didn’t really know who Robert was, and he’s grown this thing to protect himself.

Church: [For Season 2], it just felt like Robert needed to change, and the mustache felt like one of the first things that needed to go. Losing the mustache, in a weird way, it’s kind of retrograde. He goes back to being someone that he was before.

5. A happier ending

Bicks: It was a very important story to tell this season about Frances figuring out who she is and what she wants for her future. It’s very easy to look at it and say “If only…” But here you go, you get the gift of being free, but now what? Now what are you going to do? I think that was a fun thing for us to explore, and I hope by the end you get the sense that Frances has been launched into a new, happier journey for herself. And Robert as well.

Season 2 of Divorce premieres Jan. 14 at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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