'The Duchess' Review: Katherine Ryan's single mom comedy leaves you cold with toxic levels of immaturity
Some trainwrecks you can't look away from. 'Sally4Ever' or 'Fleabag' stand out as prime examples -- hits that spawned a whole genre of comedy about troubled, immature, White women. 'The Duchess' follows in its predecessor's footsteps, only it has none of its charms and there is some really bad, ill-conceived writing on display here.
The six-part miniseries (that thankfully confines itself to half-hour episodes) is a masterclass on what not to do while crafting a comedy. The wearying plotline follows the antics of protagonist Katherine (named after the show's creator and writer Katherine Ryan) in a semi-autobiographical take on her own life as a single mum who cherishes her relationship with her own daughter over all else. What a heartwarming premise, you would think -- and how wrong you would be as you sat down to watch three-plus hours of pure shite.
In her interviews about the show, she has spoken about "flipping gender stereotypes" and wanting to write about "a bad person who's a good mum" based on herself who is "a bad person and a bad mum". In which case, she should be congratulated because the show's Katherine is also a bad person and a bad mum whose daughter, Olive, will need full-time therapy as an adult.
The narrative tries to paint Katherine's narcissism, immaturity, and deranged life choices of a 33-year-old woman as cutesy, edgy, feminist, and funny. It's not. Her personality is annoying, entitled, and borderline psychopathic and her maturity level is of a high-school drop-out, which also reflects in her fashion choices.
The characters who surround her make her look better in comparison because they are even more vapid and brainless than her. Or they are simply unreal and unbelievable -- more plot devices than actual characters -- like her long-suffering dentist boyfriend who loves her despite the fact that she emotionally tortures him and humiliates him in ways that will make you cringe. In the last episode, the narrative makes this boyfriend character do something quite out of character and cruel to make Katherine look like she's a good mum and the heroine of the story. But it is a forced plot beat that comes across as desperate and weak writing designed to give Katherine a final 'win'.
Unlikable trainwrecks can be entertaining -- don't get me wrong. And the problem is also not that Katherine is a bad mum who treats her child as her "best friend" and smothers her while ignoring her real emotional needs as a child. Look no further than Nancy Botwin, the toxic matriarch of 'Weeds'. But unlike Fleabag or Nancy Botwin and other troubled but funny "bad women" on screen, the character of Katherine is only a mouth-piece for whatever tedious, contrived one-liners she has to mouth.
At no point do you see Ryan, the actor, inhabit the Katherine character as a real person -- she looks like she is doing stand-up comedy as a "cool, edgy mum" the whole duration of the show rather than embodying something real about single parenting, dating as a single mum and co-parenting. There is no growth, no evolution -- no story really -- that gives you the desired pay-off. More than anything, this show needed a mature co-writer and maybe a better actress who could give the character and story some emotional heft and depth rather than the shallows of Katherine Ryan, who turns this into a giant steaming pile of poo.
'The Duchess' premiered on Netflix September 11.