By Harvey Joyce
What is the best way to unwind after the stress of exams? Motherland may have the answer.
Back from its two-year hiatus, Motherland returns to form bringing us back to the comforting world of middle-class matriarchal shenanigans set in a typical West London borough. Each easily digestible episode is so fast-paced that you can completely devour them in one sitting (myself included).
The heart of Motherland is its characters. Most will recognise her as the equally seething Detective Chief Superintendent Patrica Carmichael from the most recent season of Line of Duty, but Anna Maxwell Martin’s portrayal of Julia is still as tragically excellent as ever. Juggling her children’s education, PTA meetings, and now her elderly mother, Julia is constantly at a breaking point and is simply feeling unloved by everyone, especially her absentee husband Paul. From this, she starts to seek refuge in a comically lopsided relationship with her builder Garry (with two r’s) however from this we get to see some truly emotional development from this sitcom’s leading lady.
By Julia’s side are her already lovable friends. Liz (played by Diane Morgan) is as apathetic and blunt as ever; we see her try to balance her new career adventures as well as her long-distant relationship. The chaotic ‘daddy-daycare’ Kevin (played by Paul Ready) reaches a new low when his marriage is at breaking point with his offscreen wife Jill. This season we see him now finally trying to find his independence. In addition to the main trio, we have the always busy, ultra-successful Meg (played by Tanya Moodie) as well as the cheery yet bone-tired Anne (played by Phillipa Dunne), who is always seen as the joke of the group with her myriad of children attached to her.
However, in my opinion, the real stand-out of this season is the ‘alpha mum’ herself, Amanda. Lucy Punch spoils us with some of the best one-liners and gags in the season from dressing her son up as Connell from Normal people for World Book Day to her ‘not-so-viral’ Tik Tok dance at the school’s charity fundraiser which deserved way more than four hundred likes. Despite this comedy, Punch still shows us there is more to Amanda’s superficial snobbery as we see through her facade to discover the strains on her personal life, such as dealing with her ex-husband’s younger girlfriend. This character growth is perfectly explored with the ingenious casting of the ‘absolutely fabulous’ Joanna Lumley to play Amanda’s chic yet inhospitable mother Felicity. Their dynamic works beautifully together and the audience can really see how Amanda developed her shallow ways. All the characters are a treat to watch and are a warming distraction from the real-world events we are all facing right now.
Humorously, Motherland doesn’t shy away from showing COVID-19 in a lighter way. Its opening episode delivers a poignant pandemic parody when a nit infestation envelops the school. Viewers will be acutely aware of familiar jargon such as “one-way systems”, “complying with guidelines” and the Downing Street style press conferences with teachers asking parents to follow the simple mantra of “comb, shampoo, comb”. From this, Motherland creates other relatable scenarios from worrying about secondary school catchment areas to birthday parties and Mother’s Day, to even enduring the school trip “from hell”.
Motherland nails the sharp, cynical critique of ‘school-gate’ mums (and dad), narcissistically absorbed in their own problems, yet in my opinion, the writers don’t fully do justice to the issues of racism faced by characters such as Meg and her daughter. This subject was never explored in the last season with the introduction of Meg and her family. This season still doesn’t effectively show Meg’s struggle of being in a white, middle-class-dominated society. The penultimate episode limps to an underwhelming conclusion where Meg is only used to show the flaws and failings in the other white character. In addition, a health scare has put Meg in a more subdued, meeker role heavily contrasting her dynamic presence in the second season. Overall, I appreciate Motherland for attempting to tackle such a big topic, but the character of Meg needed more attention rather than just creating easy sympathy from the audience.
From beginning to end, Motherland season three is an easily re-watchable series and absolutely packed with jokes and character drama which anyone will enjoy. The show thrives on exploring the relatable experiences shared by most families although you could argue it should do more to represent everyone better as a whole. Let us hope that there is still more to come from this entertaining show and these wonderful characters.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova