How HBO’s ‘Divorce’ Injects Hope -- and More Laugh-Out-Loud Humor -- in Season 2 (Exclusive)

HBO Divorce

The return of the HBO series brings a new, lighter vibe following a marriage’s bitter end in season one.

When Divorce returns on Sunday, Jan. 14, the papers are signed and a new, hopeful chapter begins for Frances and Robert, played respectively by Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church.

While the HBO series debuted to plenty of media attention -- it was, after all, the network’s first series with Parker since she played Carrie on that other show -- and even garnered its leading actress a Golden Globe nomination, it wasn’t a runaway success. In fact, the show created by Sharon Horgan (Amazon’s Catastrophe) left some fans wistful for Sex and the City, while others found the show’s humor sharp but cruel.

Here was a couple facing the bitter end of their marriage, with the season one turning into an all-out sludgefest between ex-lovers and lawyers. “We ended up in a pretty cold, pretty dark place,” Church tells ET. But was that all?

“We knew we couldn’t stay in battle,” Parker says, while sitting in the New York City HBO office perched over Bryant Park. “Even though one could argue that there's always a new fight to be had,” she continues, “I just don't think that the actors or the audience would have the appetite for it.”

The core idea of liberation, she says, was never meant to entrench the show in an ongoing position on conflict. “Season two had to be about hope. It had to have promise. It at least had to have the promise of hope.”

Indeed, the new, eight-episode season -- two shorter than season one’s 10 episodes because production was pushed back up against the cast’s commitments to other projects -- offers some hope. “In some ways you see glimmers of it,” Parker teases. But mostly, Divorce lets loose. The laughs are plentiful in a season that’s feels free to explore not only the separate lives of Frances and Robert -- particularly what it’s like to be a single parent and to start dating again -- but also the misadventures of Frances’ best female friends, Diane (Molly Shannon) and Dallas (Talia Balsam).

Of course, it’s not and never will be a sitcom. “Nobody’s looking for the laugh button or anything like that,” Church says, adding that it was about exploring a new direction that wasn’t so much looking back, but looking forward. “What’s their potential?”

Balsam agrees, saying season two is more about these characters finding their way after the smoke’s cleared. “People are moving toward the next part of their lives.” For Dallas that means not one, but two beaus of different potential and consequence -- including an unexpected but funny collision for the therapist.

Meanwhile, the show’s biggest laughs come from Shannon, who continues to shine late in her post-Saturday Night Live career with Divorce and last year’s Other People. Diane and Frances’ lives become even more intertwined as the gallery finds its footing, leading to the show’s best running gag about an absurd, emoji-like art installation.

Even though the season was cut short, Divorce is packed full of story, from the beginnings of a Flip or Flop-like duo with Robert and new love interest Jackie (Becki Newton) to Frances’ interactions with an irritable, teenaged daughter, that gives their upstate New York town room to breathe lighter while still offering a bitter jab here and there.

“Hopefully the changes that you see are still consistent with the tone,” Parker offers. “That's the hard part about hope versus battle.”

Divorce season two airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.