Seen ‘The Letdown’ yet on Netflix, mama? It’s an unflinchingly realistic look at motherhood with some hard-earned laughs thrown in for good measure
Last week I started seeing mamas on Facebook rave about The Letdown, an Australian comedy (originally aired in 2016!) that just quietly popped up on Netflix. I’m a bit of a TV junkie, yet hadn’t read anything about it on any of my fave TV blogs (mostly written by men, hmmmmm).
After a quick Google search, I came upon a few headlines that basically all said the same thing: “Don’t watch this if you haven’t already had children.”
I’d say that’s pretty accurate — The Letdown confronts postnatal issues like incontinence, bleeding, depression, loss of identity, sexual frustration, and of course sleeplessness head on. But I’d also say the childless probably aren’t the intended audience for The Letdown anyway; it kind of feels like the first show ever made expressly for moms, without giving a damn what anyone else thinks. In that regard, it is totally refreshing.
The name The Letdown makes double reference to the (uncontrollable) breastfeeding reflex that causes milk to start flowing, and to the unexpected feelings of sadness and disappointment experienced by the main character (and many of her mum friends) in the throes of new motherhood.
The Letdown primarily follows Audrey, a kind of cool and witty lady in Sydney with a 2-month-old baby and a nice-ish but slightly flaky partner who forgets to tell her about business trips. The series kicks off with her managing to offend pretty much everyone in her designated community new mothers’ group (can I just say that it is SO cool that Australia has these for everyone?), but we as the audience are of course meant to sympathize with her as she processes her daughter’s traumatic birth, struggles with sleep deprivation, and tries to keep up with her unsympathetic, childless friends.
There are a couple funny moments in the first episode but overall I found it almost too close to real life, and not really what I’d look for in my typical entertainment. I have a crying baby who keeps me up at night and a husband who takes work trips in real life, I don’t need to be reminded that that sucks, you know?
As entertainment, I also found the characters in the new mums’ group to be a bit trite and 2-dimensional: there’s the perfect overachiever with glossy hair; the workaholic mum whose husband is the primary caretaker; the kinda trashy mum who can’t keep track of her multiple kids; the single mother trying to go it alone. Each of these characters gets fleshed out to varying degrees in subsequent episodes (the workaholic and her husband most successfully), but the underlying message that’s hammered into our heads is “In spite of our differences, we’ve all got each other’s backs!”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in fact that’s exactly how things should be. It just feels a little too easy and predictable in contrast to Audrey’s complex relationship issues and identity reckoning.
All that said, from episode 3 onwards the humor gets lighter and the plots get a bit sillier (in a good way). Co-creator and star Alison Bell, who plays Audrey (and is herself the mum to a 4-year-old) is marvelously expressive and quite funny in her line delivery.
The series is just seven 30-minute episodes and very bingeable, and given the slight cliffhanger finale and the buzz it’s picked up globally on Netflix, I’m sure we’ll now get a second season. They’ll be hard-pressed to find another baby as adorable as the one who played Stevie (Audrey’s daughter) – despite the fact that we’re told she’s basically ruined Audrey’s life, she (and all the other babies in the show) are angelically quiet and basically silent props. Given how aggressively realistic the show is in depicting the harsh physical and mental realities of motherhood, I found it a bit distracting how the babies are effortlessly carried all over town in car seats or tucked under their their mothers’ arms, without ever making a sound. Perhaps I’m just being nitpicky, though.
The best part of watching The Letdown is seeing that someone else out there (in fact, lots of moms out there) get it. Motherhood is messy and crazy and probably not at all how you pictured it, and that can be a bitter pill to swallow at times. But if you make it through the haze of the early days, and you find yourself a real support network, you just might surprise yourself with who you’ve become.
“You are still you, as well as being a mum,” someone wisely counsels Audrey in the finale’s climactic scene. That might as well be The Letdown’s tagline, and it’s not a bad lesson for any of us to remember.