The first couple of episodes of TVNZ On Demand's new family sitcom Splitting Up Together remind me a bit of the US version of The Office. Not because both star Jenna Fischer, but because both are adaptations of overseas comedies in which the humour doesn't quite translate.

It's easy to forget how ropey the first season of The Office was. Remember how it borrowed jokes wholesale from the UK version and somehow managed to make them 50 times less funny? It wasn't until the second season that it started to branch off and find its own beat - and eventually, some would argue, surpass the original.

Splitting Up Together is an adaptation of Danish sitcom Bedre Skilt end Aldrig, about parents who call it quits on their marriage but decide to continue sharing the family house. They take a week-on, week-off approach - one week you're the on-duty single parent, the next you're an off-duty bachelor(ette) living in the garage. In classic romantic comedy fashion, lessons learned apart lead to epiphanies about what they were doing wrong together.

You can tell, watching the first few episodes of Splitting Up Together, that Bedre Skilt end Aldrig was probably quite funny - in an off-beat, understated, Danish kind of way. The translation to American sitcom, on the other hand, strikes some very strange notes.


The main parenting dilemma in the pilot episode revolves around a case of puberty-related discomfort suffered by oldest son Mason. With dad (Nashville's Oliver Hudson) off-duty, mum (Fischer) whisks him to the doctor, who prescribes the cure as masturbation. This is where it starts getting weird.

Mason, gormlessly, suggests his mum buy him a poster of supermodel Kate Upton. This is sternly vetoed at the dinner table by his sister Mae. Instead, mum decorates the kitchen pantry (!) with fabrics and fairy lights and christens it "Mason's masturbation nook".

Even after dad steps in and a happy compromise is reached (a Wonder Woman poster?) it's still feels deeply odd for a sitcom storyline. This is what happens when you try to adapt something remotely edgy for a network (ABC in the US) and timeslot that requires not only bleeping out the F-word put pixelating the swearee's mouth when they say it.

That weirdness aside, there are some encouraging signs. Jenna Fischer is well cast and much funnier than she ever really got the opportunity to be as Pam in The Office. Olivia Keville as her deadpan daughter Mae is funny too - her "humourless young feminist" character is a bit on the nose. But the fact the two funniest family members in a family sitcom are both female seems significant.

It probably won't get the chance to blossom to the extent The Office did, but it's halfway to being an enjoyable Modern Family-era sitcom.

Splitting Up Together (TVNZ On Demand).