It’s been almost two years since BBC Two gave us a full series of Motherland and while the Christmas special provided that much-needed shot of cynical wit at the end of last year, finally the school-gate sitcom is back for a third term – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
I devoured all five episodes of series three in one-sitting, speeding through the half-hour episodes with the hectic energy of Anna Maxwell Martin’s Julia, who is just as chaotic, unorganised and exhausted as she’s been in the last two series – except this time she’s also looking after her ill mum Marion. A satirical portrayal of middle-class West London mums and the politics of PTA fundraisers, school trips and kids’ birthday parties, Motherland is back on top form despite the hiatus, with its fast-paced episodes, jam-packed with sharp take-downs, proving a welcome distraction from the ongoing pandemic.
That being said, Motherland’s upcoming season doesn’t completely ignore the COVID-positive elephant in the room. The series three premiere opens with a Boris Johnson-esque conference, in which school staff are briefing parents about an outbreak of lice. “As difficult as this time is, it’s only by complying with the guidelines – combing, shampooing, combing again – that we can reduce the chance of these nits spreading,” a teacher gestures from behind a slogan-plastered podium.
From the ‘next slide please’ to the classic coronavirus jargon, Motherland kicks off with a perfectly toned pandemic parody before reintroducing our favourite gang of hapless parents, led by the knit-infested Julia.
Hot off the passive-aggressive heels of playing Patricia Carmichael – a.k.a the nation’s most-hated Line of Duty character after Ryan Pilkington – Anna Maxwell Martin transforms back into highly-strung mum Julia, who always seems just a few steps away from a complete meltdown. Feeling under-appreciated and overwhelmed, Julia finds herself developing a crush on her oblivious new handyman Garry whilst her husband Paul is typically MIA.
In fact, Motherland takes more of a deep dive into its characters’ private lives this series, with the show swimming away from safe sitcom territory and dipping a toe into the choppy waters of the comedy-drama genre.
The eager-to-please Kevin (Paul Ready) reaches a marital breaking point with his absent wife Jill, the ever-confident Meg (Tanya Moodie) tries to hide a health scare from her friends, gossipy snob Amanda (Lucy Punch) is in the throws of a divorce and apathetic Liz (Diane Morgan) attempts to balance her new career as an uber driver with her shepherd boyfriend (“Beggars can’t be choosers, but they can be uberers,” she announces). Meanwhile, Anne (Phillipa Dunne) is classic Anne – cheerfully running around after Amanda with a baby strapped to her chest whilst worrying about the growing number of children she has.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Motherland if it didn’t poke fun at the minutiae of middle-class parenting and all the school-related hurdles that continue to trip Julia up. From fretting about catchment areas and trying to blag her children into Catholic school, to getting dragged along on unsuccessful school trips, series three takes a pop at it all and does so magnificently.
For me, however, it’s Lucy Punch who steals the show as the glamorous, catty, self-obsessed leader of the Alpha Mums Amanda. Whether she’s eyeing up a private school for her kids that “Lily Allen and Gemma Arterton both got expelled from”, dressing her son Manus up as Normal People‘s Connell for World Book Day or performing a cringe-worthy TikTok dance at a school fundraiser, Punch gets some of the best gags this series and executes them expertly – making us laugh at Amanda but also feel sorry for the now-single parent whose personal life is crumbling around them. Particularly so when Joanna Lumley guest-stars as Amanda’s chic yet incredibly cold mum (a genius bit of casting) and we begin to understand why Amanda is such a shallow person most of the time.
Motherland’s return has to be one of its best series yet, stuffed with joke after joke, character development and outstanding performances from its seasoned cast. A hugely entertaining watch that I’ll be definitely be bingeing a second time.
Motherland returns on Monday 10th May at 9pm on BBC Two. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.