LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Bravo channel is delivering an early holiday gift to viewers that should be opened immediately.
"Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce" is a sharply observed series about divorce, yes, but love and friendship and family as well. Its premiere episode is funny and moving, sexy and sad, and very adult. But it's nuance rather than crassness that rules — although the characters' glossy affluence has the potential to rankle.
"Girlfriends' Guide" (debuting 10 p.m. EST Tuesday) can claim pioneer status as the first scripted series for Bravo, home of such flashily entertaining fare as the "Real Housewives" franchise, and the first series topped by Lisa Edelstein, who shines as woman-on-the-edge Abby McCarthy.
It also marks the auspicious bow of Marti Noxon as a solo series creator, following writing and producing stints on a range of hits including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," ''Grey's Anatomy" and another groundbreaker, "Mad Men."
"We never wanted to go into scripted just to go into scripted," said Lara Spotts, Bravo Media's senior vice president in charge of development. Even as other reality-focused channels jumped on the scripted bandwagon, "we knew we had to wait for just the right project."
Noxon and her hour-long series — which at one point was in development for Showtime as a half-hour — turned out to be "the voice" that Bravo wanted, Spotts said.
"She's talking about subjects that our reality characters are going through. She's talking about things that our viewers are going through, but in a way that feels really fresh and unique," Spotts said.
Loosely inspired by Vicki Iovine's series of nonfiction guides to pregnancy and motherhood, the 13-episode "Girlfriends' Guide" stars Edelstein as a successful how-to author whose upbeat depiction of her family life belies a disintegrating marriage to filmmaker Jake (Paul Adelstein, "Private Practice").
Edelstein, the former "House" star with an impressive track record of playing supremely confident women, here is vulnerable and sweetly affecting.
"I have never had an opportunity like this before in my life," Edelstein said. "It says something about where the world is. ... to be able to tell a story about this lively, sexual human being who's in her 40s, that alone is something that wouldn't have happened when I started in this business."
Abby's circle includes pals and divorce war veterans Lyla (Janeane Garofalo) and Phoebe (Beau Garrett), and her brother Max (Patrick Huesinger). He's a believer in marriage who achieved his dream of tying the same-sex knot with Ford (J. August Richards).
The characters are largely white, beautiful and, at the start, living the easy life in Los Angeles. Aside from Ford, who is African-American, and minorities included in later episodes, Noxon acknowledges it is a "WPP show," shorthand for "white people problems."
Does she worry about backlash?
"It's a really difficult question and I saw Lena Dunham (the creator and star of 'Girls') struggle with it," Noxon said. "The problem for me, and I think (Dunham) said something like this, is the best writing I can do is telling the things I know from my own experience."
Noxon, a divorced mother of two, says she has drawn on her own history and that of friends and the show's writers. The characters aren't always shown in a favorable light: Phoebe, for instance, is unabashed about exchanging sex for money with her ex.
"To a degree we make light of it and acknowledge that sometimes this privileged life is ridiculous and sometimes people take it for granted," Noxon said. "But I kind of have to go back to the idea that what is universal is the emotion of it, and it doesn't matter what color you are, or even what class."
Comparisons have been made to "Sex and the City," which Noxon calls flattering but not necessarily exact. "Girlfriends' Guide" is a heartier mix of love, life and work, with money and job worries poised to intrude in a way they didn't on the HBO series, she said.
On a fantasy scale, "I'd say our show is 10 feet off the ground and their show was 30 feet off the ground," she said, laughing.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.