Motherland (BBC One)
Though well regarded, Motherland hasn’t quite ascended to Fleabag levels of critical adoration – I expect because parenthood is viewed by some as slightly smug and twee comic territory. But if anything, this dispatch from the frontline of the school run (in which, significantly, actual offspring barely feature) is more acidic and less sentimental than Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s creation. Joke for joke, I think it’s also funnier.
As the second series got underway, permanently frazzled Julia (a glorious portrayal of tightly-wound fury from Anna Maxwell Martin), slummy mummy Liz (deadpan Diane Morgan) and sappy Kevin (Paul Ready) were still exiled to the coffee shop ‘toilet table’, away from the alpha-mums, led by monstrous queen bee Amanda (Lucy Punch). But they had a potential new ally in the form of Meg (Tanya Moodie), a force of nature who somehow manages to combine five kids with a successful, jet-setting business career. (‘She’s like a TED Talk,’ boggled Kevin.)
Rejecting Amanda’s ‘pony club’, Meg joined the toilet table outcasts and pressganged them into becoming her new mates. Naturally, Julia – who, by her own admission, only manages to provide ‘entry-level parenting’ – was consumed by envy, until an enforced night out clubbing saw Meg’s superwoman persona unravel spectacularly, ending with her hi-jacking a bus and trying to order cocaine from Deliveroo.
The script, by Sharon Horgan, Helen Linehan, Barunka O’Shaughnessy and Holly Walsh, crackles with zingers. Like when Kevin – a man so ineffectual he even has to plead with Alexa to take him seriously – re-capped his summer holiday: ‘I took the kids camping in Dorset. Great toilet blocks, and sinks with taps. So more glamping, really.’ Julia, by contrast, had been forced to put her kids in seven different sports clubs. ‘Which they hated,’ she admitted. ‘But on a positive, they’re now county level at badminton.'
The episode was named in honour of Meg’s motto: No Mum Left Behind. But everyone knows that, in the dog-eat-dog world of the school gate, the reality is more every mum for herself. As a result, Motherland couldn’t be less twee if it was set in a bear pit.
Catherine the Great (Sky Atlantic)
From Victoria to The Crown, The Favourite to Mary Queen of Scots, you can’t move for screen queens lately. And now here’s Dame Helen Mirren – no stranger to the English throne herself – reigning supreme as Catherine, Empress of Russia in this lavish, lusty new historical epic. If the slightly clunky script sometimes has the feel of a fifth form history lesson, there’s no doubt that Dame Helen in full sail remains a majestic spectacle.
Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story (BBC4)
The week’s best documentary saw Ian Hislop casting an amused – if frequently appalled – eye over 200 years of lies and clickbait, from sensational 1835 newspaper accounts of herds of bison and flying bat-men on the moon to the emerging technology of ‘deepfake’ videos – here rather whimsically employed to turn our cherubic host into a nimble ballet dancer. His conclusion? Lies sell - and that’s the truth.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, 10 October, 2019
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