Youf you’ve been overwhelmed by the deluge of important-sounding new shows this past month, take heart—it isn’t just you. The deadline for Emmy submissions is May 12, and with so many platforms vying for recognition, this time of year has begun to feel less like a traditional spring sweeps month, with its many season finales, and more like TV’s Oscar season. The medium’s major players are pulling out their star-studded prestige docudramas and their stunt-cast period pieces, their gritty, political David Simon crime shows and their David E. Kelley rich-oblivious-wife crime shows, their small-screen sequels to ’70s auteur films and their dramatizations of the making of ’70s auteur films. The whole thing looks good, but not necessarily entertaining.
Then there’s The babyThe HBO counterprogramming genius, ‘The Ingenious One’ premieres April 24. In the first episode of this British horror comedy, 38-year-old protagonist Natasha (Michelle de Swarte) lashes out at one friend, who dared to bring her baby to poker night, and offends another by responding to that woman’s pregnancy news with an abortion joke. Tash, who is enjoying a smoke on the nighttime beach at night, sees a woman fall off a high rock to her death just feet from Tash. A tiny baby drops into her arms. Is it possible that the universe may be trying to send her a message regarding motherhood?
The baby isn’t subtle. It isn’t polite. It’s sometimes extremely silly. The unusual combination of a cute baby boy with savage, bloody violence is sure to not be embraced by everyone. But if you can live with all of the above, it’s more than just fun—it’s also a whole lot smarter and more thought-provoking than most of the shows sucking up all the attention this month.
Michelle de Swarte in ‘The Baby’
Creators Siân Robins-Grace (The Sex EducationTash is sent on an eight-part quest by Lucy Gaymer and Lucy Gaymer to get rid of her baby, whose former caregiver died on the shore. As she learns that not everyone who she has recruited to take care of the baby, even for just a second, is violently killed, she thinks it will be an easy mission. The only person who’s safe in his presence is, wouldn’t you know it, Tash.
The show gives us a whirlwind tour of early motherhood’s many indignities, from explosive diaper changes to a surreal children’s play complex populated by screaming tots and their blithely adoring moms, all rendered with the panic-attack intensity of a slasher movie. As Tash’s quest to get rid of the baby continues, her own estranged sister (Amber Grappy) and mother (Sinéad Cusack) come into the picture. These dysfunctional relationships shed light on why she might find the idea of starting a family so repulsive—not just for herself, but also for her friends.
Each episode brings out a new twist in her story. What can appear to be an unstructured message on motherhood at first turns out to be very nuanced. There’s no question that infants can be an impossible burden—particularly for the mothers, especially if they happen to be single, and even more so when society offers little support to new parents. The least any of us, regardless of our personal preference surrounding parenthood, can do is refrain from judging, not to mention forcibly restricting, other people’s reproductive choices.
L-R: Amber Grappy, Michelle De Swarte, Amira Ghazalla in ‘The Baby’
Keep it going The baby from going off the rails, in the manner of other socially conscious horror shows like Amazon’s controversial CovenantOr you could choose from any of the following American Horror Story Seasons is its self-aware, dry humor. One running gag sees Tash, an inept woman, use a laundry hamper to make a car seat, stroller, and playpen for her son. The show’s characters are also believable and novel. The more time we spend with Tash and, later, her sister, who yearns to adopt a child with her female partner, the more sense their fractious relationship and each woman’s less-than-rational behavior makes. Although it might sound obvious that characters must be fully developed to make good storytelling, too many TV shows which are designed to win awards rely on actors for their ability to create complex motivations and fill in the gaps.
Expensive production design, A-list casts and lofty themes might be the building blocks of prestige TV, but when it comes to actual quality, there’s a reason why television has always been a writers’ medium. Multidimensional characters. Sharp dialogue. Engagement with ideas. These are essential now that many shows consider themselves to be top-tier entertainment. The First Lady doesn’t have them. They don’t exist. This is the Offer Oder Anatomy of a Scandal. And that’s all the more reason to be glad that The baby It has fallen out of thin atmosphere, and into our hands.
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