Fleishman Is in Trouble is a limited miniseries made for family law attorneys’ binge-watching pleasure. And binge-watch we did. This insightful divorce dramedy has some sharp things to say about marriage, divorce, and child custody issues. The series and the novel it was based on were written by journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who skillfully deployed shifting perspectives in telling the tale of a once-happy marriage gone sour.
The trouble with marriage is that troubles are inevitable
The series follows a couple, liver specialist Toby (Jesse Eisenberg) and talent agency executive Rachel (Claire Daines), who met in college. He was raised in a nice Jewish home and was studying to become a doctor. On the other hand, she didn’t grow up in a loving home and was studying business. Though their upbringing differed, they shared a love of long walks and the desire to have a family.
The narrator is Toby’s long-time college pal Libby (Lizzie Caplan). She initially tells the couple’s story from Toby’s perspective, with the couple already separated and harmoniously co-parenting. She starts telling the tale right when Rachel failed to pick up their kids Solly and Hannah from Toby’s place and appeared to have dropped off the face of the earth. From Toby’s POV, Rachel selfishly took time off parenting without giving him notice.
In Libby’s initial narration, Rachel is portrayed as extremely ambitious and driven, while Toby is shown as pragmatic and kind. For instance, Toby doesn’t want their kids to attend an expensive private school, but Rachel is adamant that a posh school would give the kids the advantage she didn’t have growing up. It’s worth reiterating that, unlike Toby, Rachel didn’t grow up privileged and didn’t have a supportive family that could make her feel secure no matter what life threw at her. And this seemingly was the root of some of their troubles.
Like any marriage, Toby and Rachel’s started off with a solid foundation. Their differing views and wants, however, eventually drove a wedge between them until numerous arguments eventually caused the foundation to collapse.
Divorce can be a game of "he said, she said"
To hear Toby tell it, Rachel is emotionally unavailable and therefore a bad mother. Rachel, on the other hand, is merely working hard, and her family — particularly her pragmatic husband — just happened to get in the way of her success.
Divorce can be a never-ending cycle of blame and finger-pointing that makes a presidential debate look like a friendly game of Pictionary. But the screenwriter cleverly depicts how seeing things from the other spouse’s — i.e., Rachel’s — perspective reveals the complex reality that she simply has the more demanding job and only wants what’s best for the family.
This could explain why in the divorce settlement, Rachel got the fancy New York apartment while Toby had to settle for a pad with wonky window shutters.
A custodial problem can also mean having too much custody
The real kicker, however, comes when child custody gets thrown into the mix. Suddenly, it's not just about who gets to keep the fancy New York apartment and the house in the Hamptons but also who gets to spend the most time raising the kiddies.
Unhappy with Rachel’s disappearance, Toby storms to his divorce lawyer’s office to request an adjustment to their custodial agreement. He wants to make sure that his wife doesn’t get custody of the kids again. The lawyer then curtly tells him that it appears that he already has what he wanted: to care for the children all by himself. The lawyer adds that Rachel, who is the bigger earner of the two, is paying child support and that she isn’t doing anything illegal.
The lawyer calls Toby the "wife" of his previous marriage. Obviously, she meant the now-single, divorce paper-receiving party. To Toby, it was a gut punch of humiliation.
All in all, the show was an enjoyable watch and is eloquent about marital troubles. We especially liked how it treated Toby Fleishman’s situation. Given the circumstances, the best thing he could do was temper his expectations of his missing wife. In a spectacular display of self-control, he even managed to have a heart to heart with his kids about their MIA mom without throwing her under the bus. Focusing on the here and now, he assured them that they were in good hands. That was smart. If you’re a parent in a similar situation, you wouldn’t want to be seen as an “alienator.”
Related reading: What Marriage Story gets right (and wrong) about divorce law
For family law troubles in Washington State, consult Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams. Visit our law offices in Renton or leave us a message.