TV Review: Motherland, BBC2

How kind of the BBC to save the sitcom pilot with the most potential until last. They probably realised that something written by Sharon Horgan and Graham Linehan* alongside - and no disrespect meant to them at all - Helen Linehan and Holly Walsh would be a tough half hour to follow. And sure enough Motherland hits the sitcom motherlode. 

The plot is pretty simple. We very quickly meet a group of mums (and a stay-at-home dad Kevin, played by Paul Ready) coping in their own different ways with small children. The main threesome is Queen Bee Amanda (Lucy Punch) who rules the coffee morning roost, no-nonsense northerner Lizzie (Diane Morgan) and, in the middle, stressed career mum Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin, slightly channelling Vicki Pepperdine).

The story focuses mainly but not exclusively on Julia as she gradually accumulates more and more children during the day until by 6pm she resembles the Pied Piper in a red Don’t Look Now mackintosh. And given that she hasn’t managed to eat all day she is starting to feel pretty murderous.

I thought that I recognised one of the roads Julia was driving down at the start but I think it was just her late-for-lessons angst that I actually recognised from my own school run days. Any parent will relate to at least one of the characters here and probably know a couple of parents like the other characters. I’ve certainly come across my fair share of immaculately dressed alpha mums and chaotic mums who use magazines for plates like Lizzie.

When a great sitcom scenario comes along one immediately wonders why it has never been done before. Motherland could have easily been like Outnumbered, but the children play second fiddle throughout, keeping the cuteness factor to absolute zero. I don’t know how the writing process was divided but given Sharon “Catastrophe” Horgan’s involvement, it is no surprise that it feels unflinchingly honest and real.

It is interesting to see Graham Linehan’s involvement too as this feels more mainstream than the two most iconic comedies he has been involved in, Father Ted and The IT Crowd (though he is also involved in Count Arthur Strong and that is certainly pretty mainstream). Don’t turn Motherland off and turn it on again, just leave it on. The only reason I can see for the BBC not immediately commissioning a series is that writers and actors as talented as these will be too tied up with other projects.

Motherland is on iPlayer here.

By the way, if you want to hear Graham Linehan talking about writing comedy in depth have a listen to his really interesting interview with Richard Herring here.

Slamming door


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