TELEVISION / Life After Birth / Channel 4

The jokes are a bit laboured, but at least this new sitcom about single motherhood avoids post-natal depression.
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The Independent Culture
Channel 4 is shy of sitcoms about real life, but Life After Birth, about a young single mother living in a Brent Cross council flat, appears to buck the trend. The situation could hardly be more earthbound, and yet the comedy is no more rooted in mundanity than the Drop the Dead Donkey newsroom. Perhaps uncoincidentally, the two shows share the same director (Liddy Oldroyd, clearly hired because she can do mania).

Alison falls pregnant when, as a prelude to coition, she makes the mistake of ripping open the condom packet with her teeth. Nine months later, she's ferried to hospital by a firm called Cab-U-Like, which offers a free spud with all trips of more than three miles. She breastfeeds during dinner and her flatmate's boyfriend smartly vomits. These are all jokes peculiar to the sitcom-writing trade, where the slightly desperate brief is to cram the gags in like ingredients into an ill-planned stuffing. Who cares if they ring true? Just get 'em in.

Like most sitcoms introducing themselves, Life After Birth is shrill, nervous, trying too hard to impress, but liable to calm down if you stick around. The two central performances are likeable enough. Paul Bacon's shagoholic flatmate, Judith, has promising, though possibly not boundless, comic possibilities: she's torn between the pursuit of pleasure and the selfless provision of support, which at this early stage makes her less one-dimensional than Emma Cunniffe's Alison, who will need to develop a wider range of traits than the blind panic underscored in the scenes immediately before and after birth.

The birth took place in the commercial break, by the way. Though Victoria Wood and Ruby Wax have both turned parturition into a stand-up routine, sitcoms are still smoking a cigarette in the corridor outside the delivery suite. To compensate, there are jokes in spades about motherhood's ruinous effect on the body. "Who'd have thought that my vagina could tear that much?" says Alison (a joke that has her in stitches, rather than you). Two rather effortfully created old bags, round from next door to inspect the baby, expand. "Yer tits'll be the first to go," says Trish. "I'm talking about something bigger than her tits," replies Sylv (Paula Wilcox, shame on her). "You mean her arse?"

This level of distaff frankness tends to make male audiences squirm, so presumably Life After Birth is trying to seduce a female audience by out-mouthing the unfair sex. (At which point, we pause to recall the fate of The Girlie Show.) But you could tell its scriptwriters Simon Block and Teresa Poland had first-night nerves from their tendency to over-egg. "I thought I'd wait and see what name he looks like," says Alison. "Yul?" says Trish. That's the joke, in the bag. Lacking confidence, they have to go and explain it. "Not overblessed with hair, is he?" adds Sylv, lamely. But, like babies, you never know how sitcoms will turn out. This one's still in the special-care unit.

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