Motherland review: Middle-class parenting comedy doesn’t get better than this

Motherland (BBC/Merman)
Motherland (BBC/Merman)

Probably the best news since you got your appointment for The Jab, Motherland is back, and back to its squirmingly socially embarrassed best. In case you missed the previous couple of series (which can be profitably binged via BBC iPlayer), it’s basically a sitcom version of Mumsnet. Am I being unreasonable to think that middle-class parenting comedy doesn’t get any better than this?

Written by Sharon Horgan, Helen Serafinowicz, Holly Walsh and Barunka O'Shaughnessy, the first episode of the new run is quite a clever take on the whole Covid thing, and just the right side of good taste. Thus the gang of mums are faced with a nit pandemic, opening with the school headmistress, Mrs Lamb (Jackie Clune), doing a passing impression of Chris Whitty, complete with catchphrase “next slide please” and strict social distancing and hygiene guidelines to stop the spread of the parasites.

Each of the mums reacts in a warmly familiar way to the crisis. Alpha mum and uber-snob Amanda (Lucy Punch) discovers new reasons to segregate her friends/acquaintances/allies and make them keep their distance, literally as well as socially. She’s as ugly a personality as she is glamourous, though now with added post-divorce vulnerability, and Punch is still stealing most of the scenes she appears in. Single mum Liz (Diane Morgan) still couldn’t give a flying breast pump about motherhood, while poor old Kevin (Paul Ready) is still overwhelmed by being a father in a woman’s world. Or, as he puts it: “As a stay-at-home-dad, I’m used to being treated like a turd in a swimming pool.”

The ubiquitous Anna Maxwell Martin plays Julia, over-stressed and under-supported by hubby Paul (usually absent from the scenes), who organises a predictably boozy and disastrous home hygiene event for the mums and their kids – it turns into “an absolute nit show”. Julia, who cannot even make it up the stairs with fatigue, is even more painfully put upon when she receives the news about her elderly mother that every baby boomer dreads: “she can’t live independently”. Thus she finds herself the filling in an intergenerational care sandwich. Her Munchian reaction is visceral. As her mum (Ellie Haddington) patiently combs through Julia’s hair for nits, much as she did when she was little, Julia reassures the old lady that she won’t put her in a home, “yet”. It’s funnier than it sounds, and the Motherland team have a way of handling the worst of news in the best of humour, not least when powerhouse have-it-all mum Meg (Tanya Moodie) declares she’s got “a bit” of breast cancer, at which even Amanda looks genuinely concerned.

As with any comedy involving Horgan, political correctness isn’t always strictly observed in the melee of zingers and put downs, and I was a bit doubtful about the line “it’s almost cool to be mental now” – but, like the mums themselves, they mostly get away with it. I’m very glad they do.

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