New BBC comedy Motherland has the realities of the school run down to a tee
Modern parents will recognise themselves - and cringe - in this pilot comedy from Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan and Father Ted’s Graham Linehan, says Ben Dowell
You may think that middle-class mums (and dads) are everywhere – in life, in popular culture, blimey you may even be one yourself. But us quinoa-munching stalwarts of the school run haven’t had a sitcom of our own yet.
Enter BBC2 comedy pilot Motherland, which – if you're one of us – you'll find so spot on about modern parenting you'll probably be watching from behind your fingers.
Our heroine is Julia (Anna Maxwell-Martin), a harassed parent with a demanding job and two primary school-age children who require a lot of her time and attention. Of course, time and attention are things she has in short supply, and her subsequent 'failings' as a parent induce the kind of cringing guilt we can all recognise.
The opening scene sees Julia racing to the school gates only to find she's got her dates mixed up. The school is empty, it is half term. But rather than admit to a mistake that may seem horribly familiar (what do you mean, this has never happened to you?) she takes some drastic action. Yes, Julia files a completely false bullying accusation against an utterly blameless child to explain away her presence at the school. And strangely it’s hard to hate her for this.
The politics of parenting are treacherous. And that is what makes Lucy Punch’s perfect mum Amanda so chilling. Blonde, beautiful, utterly phoney, she is the Queen Bee of the Big Table in the coffee shop where Julia's fellow parents congregate after the morning school run. Amanda rules the roost by instilling a mixture of fear and envy in her subordinates, grateful that they have a place at The Table, terrified of being ostracised. Every group like this has an Amanda.
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Of course, one person who won’t ever be asked to join the Big Table is Julia. Another is Paul Ready’s hapless stay-at-home dad Kevin, whose desperate efforts at pleasing Amanda seem destined to permanent failure. Even when he tries to organise a petition against a rival coffee shop for perceived anti-breast feeding policies just to show that he is exactly what a feminist looks like.
Still, Julia and Kevin are able to find solace in the company of Liz (Diane Morgan, of Philomena Cunk fame), forming a trio which, if this sitcom does get a full commission, will be the core of our show.
Liz is easily the most likeable of the lot – a slatternly parent who is nevertheless calm under pressure and is one of those rare and beautiful creatures one occasionally finds in life who is more than happy to take children off the hands of stressed out mums like Julia.
I really like this show and when you think of the writing team – Father Ted’s Graham Linehan (who also directs), his wife Helen, Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan and stand-up Holly Walsh – it is perhaps no surprise that it works so well.
These are people who know about both comedy and the painfully recognisable stresses of child-rearing in equal measure. They have something to say, things to get off their chest, and it reeks of authenticity.
Let's hope this pilot gets a full series. It definitely deserves a seat at the Big Table.
Motherland is on BBC2 tonight at 10pm