People kept asking me if I was watching Motherland. In addition to being a mother, I also work with mothers, so it was an obvious question. I did indeed watch it and I enjoyed it, although not as much as I had hoped, nor did I feel the series quite matched up to its pilot.
The characters, who appeared there in glorious technicolour, were stretched to their lowest common denominator here. Take for example, Liz, the sitcom’s only non middle class representative. She must have been toned down, because several people commented on the lack of social diversity, not even noticing she was different. She was still feisty and devil may care, but the quirkiness – which manifested itself in the pilot in a number of ways, such as keeping all her food items in the freezer – seemed to diminish, as she was seen wanly trying to attract one man after another.
The central character, Julia, as played by the excellent Anna Maxwell Martin, is brilliantly taut and brittle, yet increasingly less likeable as the episodes went on – her screeching, hysterical attitude towards her own mother was unpleasant to watch – and disorganised to a point that beggared belief. She constantly bemoaned her lack of childcare, yet would spend vast amounts of time in the café while her children were at school. Understandable if she had a pre-school aged child, yet she didn’t. The uber-bitch Amanda had a peculiar character transformation mid series and the stay-at-home dad Kevin was so absurdly puppyish and wimpy it was unnerving.
Certain things did hit the nail absolutely on the head. The concept of ‘school mum friends’, as distinct a group from real friends as work colleagues are. The hierarchy between the elite table and the lesser table in the café which was stuffed with school mums. Or the etiquette around children’s parties – do you stay with them or go, cancel if a child is ill, drink, not drink? Kevin, dolefully wandering around the school fundraiser as a sweat-drenched ‘human cloakroom’ was very amusing. The Cat Man, employed by Julia as entertainment for her daughter’s party, whose act consisted solely of cats emerging from various boxes, was side-splitting. Best of all, the time that Julia knocked Anne’s dead father’s face out of the Pinhead ornament and had to hurriedly recreate it using her own, was equally genius and better than can be described here.
However, there was a paucity of laughs throughout: less about the exploration of the mother dynamics that was funny, rather the touches of absurd surrealism that were unrelated to the topic. It might have been an instance of ‘too many cooks’, seeing as there were four writers. Graham Linehan, creator of the brilliant and surreal Father Ted and IT Crowd, was one of them and I suspect the influence behind the three examples mentioned above. I wished his impact had been greater, if so.
Or perhaps I’m just too close to the subject matter. Jo Brand said of ‘Damned’, her sitcom about social workers, that the most important factor was that it was funny. A friend of mine, who is a social worker, was spitting feathers about ‘Damned’ and what she felt was gross stereotyping, whereas I thought it was fabulous. If I am too like those mothers to be able to laugh at myself though, I wish I had as much time and money to spend in the café as they did.