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'Splitting Up Together' is a Little Too Predictable
March 27, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Splitting Up Together is betting that we’ll watch likeable characters in a not terribly scintillating sitcom.

Splitting Up Together, which premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC, stars Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson as Lena and Martin, a couple who find themselves in their thirties with three kids and a passionless marriage.

In keeping with the premise of the Danish series on which this one is based, they decide to divorce.

But because the real estate market is down, and they’d take a bath selling the house, they keep living together, with one in the house itself and the other in the garage.

They will alternate parenting weeks, with each free of any obligations on his or her off-week.

The kids, a contemporary crew who seem okay with all this, are feminist teenager Mae (Olivia Keville, top), pubescent Mason (Van Crosby, top) and the accommodating Milo (Sander Thomas, top).

Rounding out the core group are the obligatory best friends, which for Lena means her sister Maya (Diane Farr) and for Martin means Arthur (Bobby Lee, left), who is married to the knockout Camille (Lindsay Price, left), who is mostly upset because now she and Arthur don’t have a couple with whom they automatically hang out.

Call it the butterfly effect.

In any case, Lena says she wants to find passion again, and Maya encourages her, sort of. Problem is, Lena still has three kids whose lives she’s convinced she needs to micromanage.

Martin says he wants a carefree life where he doesn’t have to put his dirty glass in the sink the minute he finishes his drink, and he can go for a run without having to shower immediately afterward.

Somewhere in the middle are the kids, who get takeout lunches on Martin’s weeks and careful scrutiny on Lena’s weeks.

There could be a sitcom floating around in here somewhere. But Splitting Up Together has a problem.

Lena and Martin don’t really want to split up. We know it, the kids know it, Maya and Bobby and Camille know it. Lena and Martin know it.

The whole splitting up thing is just a drastic and far too dramatic way to remind them they belong together.

This isn’t a spoiler. This is the premise of the show, and the problem isn’t that we begrudge either Lena or Martin eternal days of wine and roses. The problem is that Splitting Up Together has only that one move, so we all know everything that happens is headed to the same place. 

When they fight, we don’t believe it. When she pretends to be exasperated by something he does, we don’t believe it. When he complains to Arthur about her need for control, we don’t believe it. It’s all true, but it’s all just code. In the moments when they’re supposedly most furious with each other, they’re happier than 80% of the couples on any other sitcom.

Fischer’s Lena, in particular, is a character we’re rooting for. We understand how her current situation has taken her out of a life she loved, and we like that she isn’t painted only as an angelic victim. She can be annoying and wrong.

Still, we’re all happy to know she’s got better times ahead.

We like Martin, too, because a couple of things in the first episode make it clear he’s a great Dad, a thoughtful partner, and a keeper.

So our first challenge here is buying that they got divorced in the first place. Our second is how long we want to ride the train waiting for them to realize it’s eventually going right back to where they were.

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