The Duchess - Season One - Review: Mum's the (only) word By AbirM (September 18, 2020, 1:00 pm)
'The Duchess' is a heartfelt and humorous story of love, attachment and navigating the world as a single mother, whilst centring its protagonist as the anti-hero of every middle class liberal woman's idealised life. But it doesn't always manage to get everything right.
Taking centre stage in the six-part season is Katherine, a ceramics artist and mother of one portrayed and written by comedian Katherine Ryan. The show is based somewhat on the writer's real life and navigates us through her troubles, which solely revolves around creating the perfect life for her and her almost-perfect daughter Olive (played by the debuting Katy Byrne), including choosing the right man to be with, and creating the ultimate family to raise.
The show takes us right into its specific wit in the opening scene as Katherine re-tells Ryan's famous joke about accidentally raising her daughter as a "tory" (a British citizen that votes for the right-wing Conservative political party). Olive claims that "people are coming into the country and taking all the jobs", that is, according to the news and her father Shep (Rory Keenan from 'Striking Out'). Katherine quickly emphasises that Olive, much like these people she talks about, has come into the country through an immigrant herself, as the lead is Canadian. This sets the show off perfectly as for the rest of the six half-hour episodes you can expect quick-witted humour based on liberal views, motherhood, disappointing men, and the snottiness of British women.
Whilst the humour of the show has some memorable moments, it does prove to mostly be the type to make you internally laugh rather than to do so out-loud. With its comedy, 'The Duchess' doesn't try to let it be the driving force behind the show. Although it comes with a light-hearted and funny tone, it's the story of Katherine supporting her daughter Olive that keeps us hooked. Throughout the season we see the lead screw up a few times, but this is all a part of her journey as a mother. She wants the best life for her daughter, but that proves difficult as she herself hasn't figured everything out.
With that being said, Katherine isn't portrayed as a struggling woman by most means. She walks around in comfortable and stylish clothing, has a very nice looking home, and isn't seen complaining about a low income. 'The Duchess' doesn't fall for the trap of giving their characters a rich-looking life whilst using their lack of funds as a story device. Instead, this common aesthetic is an important statement: a working, single mother can very much live and feel comfortable whilst raising her family, and look remarkable whilst doing so.
Katherine is written as strong-willed and independent, and despite her desire for a man, it is clear that she does not need one in her life. A lot of the dialogue is given to her and she is by far the most interesting character. She has witty lines, an attractive personality, and with the help of her screw-ups and deficient relationships with fellow mothers, she is able to be the perfect anti-hero to make this lovable dramedy enjoyable.
Although the Netflix original does a good job with its protagonist, one of the show's low points is that the supporting cast do not have a life outside of Katherine. As said in their job title, they are there to support the lead, but it's hard to care for them when they receive minimal attention outside of popping up to give her some advice, or to have a quick back-and-forth. Of the main characters, only a few end up having some kind of poignant arc, namely Olive's father and Katherine's love interest Evan (Steen Raskopoulos), which still very much focuses on their relationship to the lead. But the most disappointing supporting character is Katherine's best friend Bev (Michelle de Swarte) who appears to always be there when Katherine is in trouble, and is prepared to fight anyone, even Evan's temporary and innocent date Sandra (Maya Jama).
Bev is funny, sarcastic and friendly, but despite that, she very much falls under the "the Black best friend" trope. This trope, described by writer Vanessa Willoughby, is apparent when a Black person exists in a work of fiction "to support the white characters and to act as representative of an entire race". Being that the lead is surrounded by white love interests and mostly white mothers, Swarte's character serves as a way to distract from that and to offer the main representation of the "other". Bev is an intriguing addition to the show, she's snarky, defensive and always available to support her best friend with her issues, despite having hints of her own problems which are merely one-liners as opposed to plot points. She definitely has an important part to play as she offers comic relief, allows our protagonist to feel less alone and offers her a new perspective on her problems. But it would be more entertaining if she could also be her own person, as her struggles with her partner could offer the show something other than the lead's storyline, and to avoid conforming to the aforementioned overly used trope.
Understandably, we only have about 180 minutes to tell the overall story, but a few minutes in one or two episodes is not a lot to ask for, being that it is less than what should be expected.
'The Duchess' does shine when it comes to the show's overall story arc. And it becomes very clear that despite the obvious love storyline we see with Evan, as well as the hints of the "will they? won't they?" romance between her and Shep in the early episodes, that the main love story being told is the one between Katherine and her daughter, Olive. Everything she does is for her daughter, and her final decisions are always focused on what is best for her. Towards the end of the season she is at one of her lowest points when she is crying on the street, and the reason for it is because it is also Olive's lowest point. 'The Duchess' successfully focuses the show on this relationship, giving us something fresh and exciting in the world of dramedies, and offers us an intimate and exciting story that avoids conforming to the much easier-to-accomplish love triangle.
Netflix's latest comedy is a very digestive watch, being that it only lasts for six half-hour episodes, one could quickly finish it within an afternoon. It doesn't always hit the right points, particularly with its characterisations, but the humour is consistent and the story is strong. 'The Duchess' is a very safe and enjoyable show. If you're a fan of 'Girlboss', 'The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel' or 'I Hate Suzie', then Katherine Ryan's new comedy would be a great addition to your weekend.