Although we're now firmly in 2023, confronting a series that deals with the after effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still hits a raw spot in many people's psyches. At least, it does mine. Who really wants to watch a series that reminds them of the tragedies, illness and misery that plagued 2020 and the years immediately following it?

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Well, although it's been pinned as a "post-pandemic" frontline medical drama, Maternal manages to weave together the harsh realities of life in the NHS and being a working mother after the year that shall not be named. But most interestingly, it does so in a way that feels distinctively light.

It's not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination but the drama combines moments of humour, chaos and thoughtfulness – a feat achieved by the clever writing of Jacqui Honess-Martin.

We follow Maryam, a paediatric registrar, Catherine, a general and trauma surgeon, and Helen, a registrar in acute medicine, played by Parminder Nagra (DI Ray), Lara Pulver (The Split) and Lisa McGrillis (King Gary) respectively. The effortless chemistry between the Maternal cast's leading trio is a joy to watch, but so is the slow reveal of their personal and professional lives.

One of the delightful things about this series is the fact that, while we may follow these women and think we have a grasp on their reality, we never quite do. For example, Catherine seems cool, calm and collected, the archetypal 'mum goals'. But, really, we come to chip away at the façade to learn that she's stressed about the progression of her career and dealing with an unsupportive mother and life as a new single mother herself.

Similarly, Maryam is left pondering her own priorities with a husband who doesn't necessarily jump at the thought of her returning to paediatric care. Helen, too, is facing her own battles, namely a medical consultant husband who has cheated with a younger colleague – and with whom she works on the same unit.

ITV Maternal Lara Pulver
Maternal: LARA PULVER as Catherine MacDiarmid. ITV

It’s a series that could very easily be bogged down by the weight of its themes – it's centred around medical trauma, emergency rooms and an overburdened (and understaffed) NHS, after all. But instead Maternal feels surprisingly easygoing, for the most part.

Even in the way that Pulver’s Catherine delivers the revelation of her baby Ellis to her visiting ex-lover Dr Lards Nordstrom (Alexander Karim) will leave you laughing. He apologises for his previous behaviour, talking about the love he has for his wife and children. So, of course, Catherine proceeds to tell him that she got pregnant and never had a termination, saying: “This isn’t Hollyoaks”.

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We follow the women as they navigate everyday traumas within their hospital wards, which makes for some of the more emotional scenes in this six-part series. But we also see how they combat overbearing colleagues, working with love interests (and cheating husbands) and juggle motherhood and NHS work. It's a celebration of the multi-faceted modern mother.

ITV maternal Lisa McGrillis
Lisa MCGRILLIS as Dr Helen Cavendish in ITV's Maternal. ITV

Maternal isn't unlike some of the most well-known medical dramas on TV. It has the medical store cupboard dalliances of Grey's Anatomy, the British realism of This Is Going To Hurt and the instantaneous comfort of a cast that comes with previously released shows like Good Karma Hospital and Holby City.

The format of following three separate women in different areas of a hospital feels familiar, and it is – but it also really isn't.

The difference with Maternal is that it is primarily concerned with shining a light on post-pandemic medicine and the realities of returning to work as a new mother. It's something that has been sidelined in the canon of television dramas but is something that many women – regardless of their profession – will be able to sympathise with: the anxiety, the overthinking, the fear that comes with new territory in the workplace.

Like our leading characters, viewers will go on an emotional journey as they devour each episode. Prompting laughter, shock and empathy, Maternal is a series that does its best to scratch the surface of the women who hold the NHS together – and it does a damn good job of doing so.

Maternal airs on ITV1 and ITVX on Monday 16th January at 9pm. Check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide, or visit our Drama hub for more news and features.

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