TV review: Motherland (BBC2); Fishing Impossible (ITV)

Motherland cleverly unites British comedy’s two main staples: class and cringing social embarrassment

Tuesday 06 September 2016 19:26
If Mumsnet were a sitcom, this would be it
If Mumsnet were a sitcom, this would be it

Well, congratulations to Graham Linehan, Sharon Horgan, Helen Linehan and Holly Walsh for creating a magnificent half-hour of fresh comedy. What we have here is basically Mumsnet with gags, and, like a good omelette produced by a extremely busy yummy mummy, you don’t really need an awful lot of ingredients, provided they’re nice and fresh, to make a perfectly tasty snack for someone very hungry. Such as Julia, the chaotic mother played as “barely suppressed lunatic” by Anna Maxwell Marti, who finds herself viciously patronised by the alpha-maternal Amanda (Lucy Punch, a sort of grotesque figure constructed from bits of Julia Davis, Rachel Johnson and whoever it is that runs Mumsnet), who is, of course, never too busy to be the perfect hostess or the perfect manipulator of her fellow woman.

Fine performances as they are, they are still outclassed for precision timing and desiccated delivery by Diana Morgan, as would almost anyone. Her talents were showcased all too briefly in Charlie Brooker’s various screen wipes, as the faux naïve Philomena Cunk with her “moment of wonder”, and she is a much undervalued comic genius. The best (but not the only) reason for extending this one-off pilot into a whole Mumsnet-style Motherland franchise phenomenon thing is to see much more of the magnificent Morgan.

Motherland cleverly combines the twin British comedy staples of class and cringing social embarrassment, and makes the most of slamming them together. It’s quite a conventional sitcom in that sense – there’s no mockumentary-style wobbly camera work and crashing zooms, or breaking the fourth wall, but it’s none the worse for that. The subtle, and quite fresh, thing about it is how it explores the differences and tensions within the broad strata of the English middle classes, rather than the older traditional sitcom model of idiot working classes strafing against the pretensions of the middle classes (like, say, Only Fools and Horses, or Steptoe and Son).

There’s also a fine sense of the outer absurdities of political correctness, such as the breastfeeding crisis at Toasties, which I think is a sort of café patronised (in all senses) by the mums, plus a reference, which I found inexplicably hilarious, to Peter Mandelson appearing at the Women In Construction Awards. There’s even a single dad in there, Kevin (Paul Ready), very sweet, but not quite fitting easily into the various female pigeonholes, and thus automatically shunned by the more obviously wealthy and fussy alpha-group led by the monstrous Amanda. Like I say, Mumsnet with gags, and a brilliantly, uncomfortably contemporary piece of work with lots of potential. I’d like to see more, but it ought to come with a warning that it will put you off having kids, the toughest aspect of which seems to be dealing with other parents, with whom you have nothing else in common than a moment of coincidental reproduction.

Three fishing fanatics tackle extreme destinations to catch the world’s most sought-after fish in ‘Fishing Impossible’ 

I may be getting a little over-sentimental, but I do object, a bit, to seeing innocent, magnificent examples of exotic fish being slaughtered for the sake of a half-hour ITV show on a wet Tuesday evening. I doubt that the vermillion rock cod from British Columbia is anything like an endangered species, but, no matter, the very act of reeling it up from the depths is enough to inflict fatal damage, and the best that could be done is to then eat it. Which the extreme anglers in Fishing Impossible don’t even do if the specimen is too small. Anyway, if you want to know how you catch crabs, then this is one of the nicer ways to find out.

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