How Accurate Is Once and Again?

Remarkably, as it turns out. Culturebox isn’t a divorced mom in the suburbs, but she did conduct an informal survey of divorced suburban parents she knows on the realism of Once and Again. That’s the much-touted new drama by writers/producers/directors Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (who is divorced) about two divorced parents in the suburbs who meet cute–while dropping their kids off at school–and date even cuter. (It airs tonight on ABC, at 10 p.m.)

Here are two picayune but quite common details of the separated life that Culturebox, for one, has never seen on a TV series before. (If you have, please write Culturebox and tell her where.)

  • The endless shlepping. Children in joint-custody arrangements invariably forget stuff at one parent’s house and make the other one take them there late at night or first thing in the morning. At the beginning of the episode, Eli Sammler, 11th-grade son of the male half of the new couple, Rick Sammler, announces he has to be taken to his mother’s because he’s left his history notes there.
  • The homework-falling-through-holes syndrome. It’s completely understandable that parents who don’t communicate well would have a hard time keeping track of schoolwork done by one child at two households during the course of a single week. This comes up in Once and Again when Eli starts failing two subjects at school because Rick doesn’t make the teen-ager buckle down on the nights he sleeps at Rick’s house.

Many of the other details of divorce on Once and Again are the regular fare of family sitcoms or dramas. There’s the slightly tired riff about deadbeat dads: Lily’s ex-husband promises to show up at their daughter’s soccer game, but forgets about it until Lily angrily reminds him. There are the mutual accusations of denial or neurosis, with each parent accusing the other either of refusing to face their children’s problems or of making too much of them. There’s the way the smart-aleck children discuss the details of their parents’ sex lives with them.

That last, in fact, strikes the falsest note in Once and Again, since it has been Culturebox’s experience that real children will go to some lengths to avoid the disgusting details of a parent’s sex life. Zwick and Herskovitz grasp this, in principle, since at one point they have Lily’s daughter asking plaintively, “Why can’t they keep their private lives private?” But the needs of dramatic exposition clearly proved too much for the show’s creators: How else are you going to get Lily and Rick to go into their feelings for each other, or at least about dating, if they aren’t going to share with their kids? After all, who else do divorced parents spend their time with? (Lily gossips some with her sister, an annoyingly perky single creature, but  goes on and on about her fears of dating with her daughters; Rick mostly keeps things to himself, but is interrogated by curious children.) Despite lapses like these, Once and Again strikes Culturebox as the first show to make an attempt to capture divorce as it is lived today. With a 50 percent divorce rate in America and 3 out of 10 households run by a single parent (three times as many as two decades ago), Once and Again seems poised to become for joint custody what Thirtysomething was for yuppie angst.