People kept asking me if I was watching Motherland. In addition to being a mother, I also work with mothers, so it was an obvious question. I did indeed watch it and I enjoyed it, although not as much as I had hoped, nor did I feel the series quite matched up to its pilot. The characters, who appeared there in glorious technicolour, were stretched to their lowest common denominator here.
Take for example, Liz, the sitcom’s only non middle class representative. She must have been toned down, because several people commented on the lack of social diversity, not even noticing she was different. She was still feisty and devil may care, but the quirkiness – which manifested itself in the pilot in a number of ways, such as keeping all her food items in the freezer – seemed to diminish, as she was seen wanly trying to attract one man after another.
The central character, Julia, as played by the excellent Anna Maxwell Martin, is brilliantly taut and brittle, yet increasingly less likeable as the episodes went on - her screeching, hysterical attitude towards her own mother was unpleasant to watch - and disorganised to a point that beggared belief. She constantly bemoaned her lack of childcare, yet would spend vast amounts of time in the café while her children were at school. Understandable if she had a pre-school aged child, yet she didn’t. The uber-bitch Amanda had a peculiar character transformation mid series and the stay-at-home dad Kevin was so absurdly puppyish and wimpy it was unnerving.
Certain things did hit the nail absolutely on the head. The concept of ‘school mum friends’, as distinct a group from real friends as work colleagues are. The hierarchy between the elite table and the lesser table in the café which was stuffed with school mums. Or the etiquette around children’s parties – do you stay with them or go, cancel if a child is ill, drink, not drink? Kevin, dolefully wandering around the school fundraiser as a sweat-drenched ‘human cloakroom’ was very amusing. The Cat Man, employed by Julia as entertainment for her daughter’s party, whose act consisted solely of cats emerging from various boxes, was side-splitting. Best of all, the time that Julia knocked Anne’s dead father’s face out of the Pinhead ornament and had to hurriedly recreate it using her own, was equally genius and better than can be described here.
However, there was a paucity of laughs throughout: less about the exploration of the mother dynamics that was funny, rather the touches of absurd surrealism that were unrelated to the topic. It might have been an instance of ‘too many cooks’, seeing as there were four writers. Graham Linehan, creator of the brilliant and surreal Father Ted and IT Crowd, was one of them and I suspect the influence behind the three examples mentioned above. I wished his impact had been greater, if so. Or perhaps I’m just too close to the subject matter. Jo Brand said of ‘Damned’, her sitcom about social workers, that the most important factor was that it was funny. A friend of mine, who is a social worker, was spitting feathers about ‘Damned’ and what she felt was gross stereotyping, whereas I thought it was fabulous. If I am too like those mothers to be able to laugh at myself though, I wish I had as much time and money to spend in the café as they did.
I actually quite enjoy this version, truth be told. Not so much the personnel in question, who range from quite endearing to making you want to put your fist through the wall, but because they have some rather good challenges in this incarnation. The ingredient recognition test was always one of my favourites and I’m pleased to see it’s made a comeback, even though some of the items are insultingly simple. Red pepper, seriously?! Although I’d suppose you’d technically get brownie points for knowing it is a bell pepper, but this wasn’t adhered to.
The disparity between competence levels is both amusing and frustrating and makes you realise all the more they had to take who they could get, so thinly stretched is the ‘talent’ available. These Celeb versions littering the schedules rely on us, the ever-slavering public, giving two figs as to whether so-and-so who once presented something on an obscure cable channel is now able to boil an egg satisfactorily. You do get one or two bona fide big names per series, Vic Reeves being one this time round. Shame he couldn’t have been paired with Ulrika Jonsson. Or Ulrika-ka-ka, as she’s better known from their time on Shooting Stars. He might have relaxed her slightly. She looks like she’s being almost constantly tortured, which makes you wonder why she’s subjected herself to it. Oh yes, for cash probably.
You realise how bad this Non Celeb thing has got when you look at Kate (or rather the Reverend Kate. She has to permanently wear her dog collar and cross herself in case we, the dribbling loons, forget for a second who she is). Is Reverend Kate famous for healing the sick, making the lame rise from their beds, turning water into wine or any other useful skill? No. Reverend Kate is famous because she once watched OTHER PEOPLE DOING THINGS ON TELEVISION. Now, I love Gogglebox very much indeed, but those on Gogglebox need to STAY on Gogglebox, not be meandering over all our programmes willy-nilly. Yes, Scarlett Moffatt, I AM looking at you. You have a certain caustic wit, but Noel Coward you are not. It wouldn’t surprise me if dear Scarlett rocked up presenting News at Ten, so ubiquitous is she these days. Warhol would be spinning in his grave so much, his head would be drilling holes in the sides.
Rev Kate had the work ethic of all the disciples and a few saints for good measure. Her output was astonishing and ultimately proved her downfall, as she produced three puddings instead of the stipulated one. This would have been fine except the least appetising looked like it had come out of an ill cat’s bottom. She made no friends on the Twitterverse, who felt her modesty about her talents was somewhat fake. Worse than that, she was extraordinarily bossy and condescending to her fellow Slebs on the challenges. It was all in the editing, protested some. Maybe once, but she was even worse the second time, which starts to look more like carelessness than misfortune, as genuine celebrity Oscar Wilde might have said.
Much feather-spitting ensued also around Ulrika’s staying power. She does seem to have a lot of lives (unlike the ill cat from whom Rev Kate’s pud ensued). In the last round, she made a risotto. I’m sure it was very nice indeed, but I can make a very nice risotto. I’m not sure I could make an exquisite rose out of thinly peeled apple as Angelica Bell did. Or show as much grit as adorable Becky Adlington, who after an initial horrified reaction to the fish, knuckled down to the preparation without a further murmur. These two are the winners in my book. You go, girlfriends!