TV

Judgment, nipple pain and failed sex – 'The Letdown' is motherhood laid bare

Australian TV show The Letdown celebrates the fuzzy warmth of new parenthood – confusion, terror and the constant unsolicited advice of others

My memories of early motherhood involve (in no particular order): medieval gynaecological tortures, lack of sex, lack of sleep, vicious arguing, feeling like an impostor, boredom, despair, moments of unexpected joy – sometimes in inexplicable situations (ie: while wiping up shit at 3am) and lots and lots of coffee shops.

Hmm, what else? Oh yes, mother and baby groups featuring annoying women being pointlessly competitive, constant paranoid checking of Mumsnet, trying to freelance while babies wail in the background, being told off for careless road crossing by an old lady, drinking lots of wine, losing friends, feeling judged, feeling lost, feeling abandoned by my husband who had the temerity to go to work, losing my sense of identity and feeling frustrated that I’d been demoted to Chief Kitchen Floor Sweeper. Oh and let us not forget the bizarre necessity of singing Wind the Fucking Bobbin Up 867,099 times a day.

So when my friend, who is just entering into this arena of the stained and insane, raved about The Letdown, an Australian TV show that came to Netflix last month, I thought I’d give it a go. I mean, I’m now in the pre-teen stages of motherhood, far enough away from babyhood to be able to smoke a cheroot and say sage things like “It’ll get easier”, with the knowledge that I can get a full eight hours of sleep and will never have to clean up a pee puddle in a soft play centre again.

The first failed post-natal shag, complete with worried Googling halfway through, is brilliantly depicted

However, I wasn’t prepared for being hurled back there like a bowl of pureed sweet potato dashed against the wall. The old episotomy scar started throbbing when protagonist Audrey (Alison Bell, who co-wrote the series with Sarah Scheller) tried to get her pram up the stairs at the mother and baby support group, a group about as supportive as a knackered nursing bra, populated with the good, the bad, the judgemental and the utterly hateful. The first failed post-natal shag, complete with worried Googling halfway through, is brilliantly depicted. And all that latching on, all that unsolicited advice, all that tortured fumbling around in the dark are amusingly and fearlessly tackled. They even cover the heartbreaking moment, as bad as any third-degree tear, when you realise some friendships aren’t going to last the distance.

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While it isn’t exactly groundbreaking subject matter, The Letdown strikes a good balance with broad comedy taking the edge off the sheer visceral nipple-biting horror of it all – and it’s got a warmth and honesty that similar parenthood comedies (like Motherland) didn’t achieve. Bell’s performance is a bed-headed, muddled, effortlessly relatable treat, and whether she’s leaving her baby outside, falling asleep in the cot or crying on the bus, you’re with her all the way. If you’re a new parent, an old parent or a parent-to-be, watch it and weep.

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