Motherland: Sparkling wine o’clock wit from Sharon Horgan

TV review: Beleaguered parents will enjoy putting up their feet and draining every drop

It’s a little over a week since Anna Maxwell Martin’s Patricia Carmichael was fixing her laser glare at Ted Hastings on Line of Duty. So a degree of readjustment is required – on her part and ours – as the actress returns as embattled mum Julia in series three of Sharon Horgan’s Motherland (BBC Two, 9pm).

Motherland’s genius idea is to take the soap opera that is the daily gauntlet run at the school gates and expand it into a sit-com. And just as everybody is a bent copper on Line of Duty here almost every character is a fed-up mother (with one or two novelty stay-at-home dads).

Horgan co-created the show and is part of the writing team. And the new season twinkles with the switchblade wit that was a feature of her earlier hit, Catastrophe.

“What’s the female equivalent of a man-cave?” wonder mopey house-husband Kevin (Paul Ready). “Panic room?” shoots back Liz (Diane Morgan).


There’s also a nice pandemic in-joke – apparently we now live in the era of pandemic in-jokes – as the episode opens with a lecture about a lice infestation at the school. While the “nit curve” has plateaued, the teacher tells parents, any child found to be at an infected table will be required to isolate at home. A year ago that might not have been funny. Now it is. Maybe that’s what a light at the end a tunnel looks like

As with Catastrophe, Motherland is dark in places but gets away with it because it’s ferociously sharp. Julia is fed up having her mum live with her, Kevin’s wife wants a divorce, another mum has cancer.

There’s also a character played by Mayo actress Philippa Dunne. And Motherland very nearly makes a joke about British attitudes towards Irish people, when alpha mum Amanda (Lucy Punch) reveals that she’s always assumed Anne (Dunne) had worked at sausage roll emporium Greggs.

“I was head of product development Glaxo Smithkline worldwide,” says Anne. “I don’t think I’ve been to Greggs – maybe once or twice as a customer.”

Yet Motherland really has no wider point beyond acknowledging parenthood is all-consuming and entirely lacking in glamour and that, if you haven’t got a sense of humour, how could you possibly cope?

That isn’t the chirpiest message, but the gags flow so freely and hit the target so often, that the aura of overwhelming despair soon fades. This is the light entertainment equivalent of wine o’clock and beleaguered parents will enjoy putting up their feet and draining every drop.