Splitting Up Together is a new sitcom about a couple navigating parenthood after their separation, but Jenna Fischer wants to make one thing clear: It’s not a show about divorce. “I don’t think it’s fair to brand it that way,” she says of the comedy, which premieres tonight on ABC. To be fair, though, it kind of is. After all, it’s about a separated couple—Fischer and her costar Oliver Hudson—who realize their marriage is no longer working. Still, Fischer wants viewers to know it’s so much more than that: “It’s a show about relationships and parenting and trying to build a life with another person, whether you are divorced from that person or with that person.”
And sure, from the outset this kind of family dynamic has played out before on television—see: Reba, Cougar Town, Who’s the Boss—but Splitting Up Together takes a very 2018 look at relationships and parenthood. From bird-nesting (yes, it’s a thing—defined as when the kids live in the same family home and the parents take turns living there instead) to raising “woke” children, the series consistently tackles culturally relevant subject matter.
Take, for example, an episode in which their teen son wants a poster of Kate Upton on his wall, but his sister thinks it’s objectifying. “From my character’s perspective, he’s trying to relate to his daughter and discover his inner feminist,” Hudson explains. “But he also can’t quite grasp what she needs and wants. She is way beyond his capabilities.” It’s a story that Hudson hopes will lead to more dads embracing what it means to be a feminist. “I’m a feminist. Feminism is about everybody,” he says. “So even though my character is trying to relate to his daughter, the biggest thing is that she can see he’s trying [to be on the same page with her]. It’s a beautiful moment.”
Fischer, who has two kids, finds her scenes with her onscreen children just as moving and realistic. “It’s very difficult to try and navigate life with your teenage son as a mom,” she explains. “He wants a poster of a sexy woman in his room, which my daughter is completely against. I have the job of trying to juggle these two needs and create what is fair. It’s complicated, like life is.”
Adds Hudson, “Right, because why would you deny the pubescent feeling of lust? Who is Martin to deny that as a parent? One of the things that I love most about the show is that we’re able to really go there with these topics.”
Hudson, a father to two sons and a daughter, is glad society is shifting its thinking about what parental responsibilities are today. “The father’s role has definitely changed, and we’re much more expected to be involved,” he says. “Men are having to adjust to what it’s like to be a caretaker, too. Things are shifting, and I think for the better.”
For Fischer, that also means embracing the role of someone learning to not be in control all the time. “My character is so unwilling to let other people help,” she says. “She doesn’t trust anyone can do it right except for her. The whole point is to let go a little bit and let her ex-husband, who is perfectly capable, take over some parenting responsibilities. You don’t need to be divorced to understand how hard something like that can be.”