Review: Bad Mothers 1×1 (Australia: Nine)

A bad programme about not-great mothers

Bad Mothers
Bad Mothers

In Australia: Mondays, 9pm, Nine
In the UK: Not yet acquired

“I’m mad as Hell and not going to take this anymore” may be Network‘s best known line, but it could also be a motto for the #MeToo movement. TV companies around the world naturally want to take advantage of this female anger at the nature of modern society, either (optimistically) because they too feel the rage or (cynically) they want to cash in on the ratings.

Bad Mothers – which is no way related to or as funny as the movie of the same name – airs on the usually female-friendly Nine network in Australia and is co-created by Rachel Lang (Outrageous Fortune, Hyde & Seek, Westside, The Blue Rose, The Almighty Johnsons), so you’d hope the former optimistic answer was the root cause of the show. But if it is rage at societal expectations of mothers to be perfect and self-sacrificing, it’s quite an unfocused rage, one largely directed at other women for some reason.

The show sees Tess Haubrich (Wolf Creek, Pine Gap) playing regular mum Sarah, who’s starting to suspect that husband Daniel MacPherson (Strike Back) is having an affair with his personal trainer Shalom Brune-Franklin (Our Girl, Doctor, Doctor). However, when she turns up at the gym, she spots he’s actually having an affair with her best friend Melissa George (In Treatment, Hunted, Heart Beat). She takes solace with fellow mums at the school her children attend. Cue lots of drinking, setting fire to MacPherson’s clothes, vandalism of George’s car and abduction of dogs.

However, things take a turn when George is found murdered and first Haubrich then MacPherson becomes the police’s prime suspect. Can this group of mums solve the crime and find out who really killed George? And how much red wine will then need to drink together to do it?

Melissa George in Bad Mothers
Melissa George in Bad Mothers

Bad feminism

There is a lot of hate going on round here, but surprisingly little for men. As soon as things get a bit tricky between the married couple because of MacPherson’s having an affair, jokes pop up to deflect the conflict and to turn the problem back onto Haubrich. Gaslighting, maybe, but the show’s real bile always seems reserved for other women.

George, admittedly, isn’t the most popular of actresses in Australia following her un-Aussie rant, but the show and she do go out of their way to make her as unlikable and as anti-female solidarity as possible – a mother more interested in herself than others, who’ll have an affair with her best friend’s husband, who’s rich, spoilt and has a stupid little dog, who never has time for anyone else and who seems permanently medicated/drunk. I mean, obviously, she’s got to be as murder-worthy as possible for as many people as possible, but the show does take the path of least resistance to get there.

There’s also the constant exchange of bitchy lines about physique between Brune-Franklin and Haubrich, and Brune-Franklin’s delight in other women’s misfortune. On top of that, there’s the other women in the group of five (Hyde & Seek‘s Mandy McElhinney and Wolf Creek‘s Jessica Tovey) who are very keen to start metaphorically stabbing away at other women as soon as possible (and vice versa). There’s also the constant one-upwomanship in the mothering. Of course, they may all club together and learn the power of female emancipation and friendship by the end, but that’s not the message yet – or from the trailer for the rest of the series.

All of which makes Bad Mothers less of a #MeToo than it probably hopes, more a Mothers Behaving Badly meets The Bletchley Circle. A little bit of quite tame rebellion, a little bit of solidarity, but mostly women a bit miffed and trying to solve a crime, all to be resolved with a return to something just a little bit better than the status quo was.

Don Hany in Bad Mothers
Don Hany in Bad Mothers

Bad opening

As of yet, we don’t have a real taste for how good the murder-solving aspect of the show is going to be, though. We’ve also lost the show’s best and most famous actress (Gilbert) and haven’t yet deployed the show’s best actor and most famous actor (Don Hany of East West 101/Serangoon Road fame), making this initial episode decidedly inauspicious and alienating.

Things might perk up and become more coherent in later episodes, but as of yet, there’s nothing really to recommend about Bad Mothers. It’s not that funny, it’s not especially taboo-breaking, it doesn’t have much of a message, it doesn’t have any great characters and it doesn’t really advance #MeToo in any way.

Dare I even say it’s… bad?