In praise of Motherland

Sharon Horgan and co’s clever, funny, oestrogen-fuelled comedy is an antidote to the patronising delusions of smug parents.

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The new series of Motherland (7 October, 10pm) throbs with so much anger, aggression and oestrogen, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kim Jong-un tried to develop it into a long-range missile at some point quite soon. This isn’t a criticism. Personally, I’m hugely looking forward to firing it, metaphorically speaking, at certain of the more ghastly parents I know. Sharon Horgan and company’s comedy is, after all, the nearest thing some of us will ever get to consolation for all the times when we – whether non-parents, inadequate parents, or merely honest parents – have to grin and bear the patronising delusions of the smug parents, the self-congratulatory parents, and the deeply insecure parents, all of whose lives are (apparently) so replete and busy and full of love in comparison to our own.

In Motherland, pretty much every major character is slatternly when it comes to parenting, and nor do they mind admitting it. Thanks to this, they regard those who present a vision of maternal perfection to the world – eg the unctuous, Janus-faced Amanda (Lucy Punch), queen bee of the alpha mums – with the kind of suspicion Kim Jong-un reserves for his uncles and half-brothers. And how, incidentally, is Amanda? Actually, she has separated from her husband; both of them needed space “to grow”. But hey, it’s all very amicable and they’re definitely in a co-parenting situation (capital C, capital P). At this, Liz (Diane Morgan), leaning against the school gates like a Second World War spiv against a bombed out wall, rolls her eyes and says: “Wait until he gets on Tinder. Then we’ll see how much of a co-parent he is.” I love Liz. I wish I could bottle her, and spray her all over. Asked what she did in the school holiday, she tells Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Kevin (Paul Ready) – absolutely deadpan – that because Lee (her ex) had the children, she was free to spend it on Necker Island with the Bransons, where she spent her days giving blow jobs to billionaires.

Ah, but who’s this, cackling wildly on a mobile phone in a corner of the screen? Meg (Tanya Moodie) is a terrifying new mother on the block: a force of nature who somehow manages to cope with myriad children and a high-flying job, and yet who still wants to go out and get rat-arsed every other night. Plus, as Julia observes, spying on her new neighbour from her bay window, she has a gorgeous older husband, Bill (Anthony Head), whom she appears to snog passionately on arriving home. Is all this fair? No, it isn’t. How on earth does she do it? No one can work it out. All they know is that she’s mesmerising.

Drippy Kevin, who has a new job at a soft-play area that may be Europe’s biggest, stares at her like a vole that’s about to be swallowed by a weasel. Liz looks at her as if she is an off-licence that’s advertising half-price vodka (and actually, she practically is). Amanda longs to latte with her. Only Julia is unimpressed, basically because she’s as envious as all hell. “I thought we’d all agreed as feminists that now it’s unfeminist to have it all,” she says to Liz, as they wait for their ritual bollocking from the powers that be at their children’s school. Liz isn’t able to make a contribution to this important philosophical debate. She’s too busy wondering if she can use Nectar points to pay the arrears on her kids’ breakfast club payments.

Oh, Motherland. How do I love thee? Counting the ways, I’ve only one worry. Julia appears to have lost her job, and I wonder what this will mean for her character. I can’t imagine her being anything other than as frazzled as bacon left for too long beneath the grill. I don’t want her to attempt the domestic arts, let alone to have power-coffees with Amanda. But let us push this anxiety away for now. This show is so clever and so funny. It does one vastly more good than a large measure of something cold and crisp and white – though ideally, you should take them both together: the bitching and the mournful trumpets, and the chilled bottle of Sauvignon. (Did I say bottle? I meant “glass”… honestly.)  

Motherland
BBC Two

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 09 September 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The fantasy of global Britain