A lot of big-ticket series have landed recently, vying for your attention and hoping to get noticed for this year’s Emmy Awards. One that hasn’t received a ton of attention, but should, is about the age-old theme of motherhood. Winningly eccentric, it’s also as dark as night.
The Baby (streams Crave) is a horror-comedy series that pulls no punches. The baby of the title is a dangerous monster. Oh, the baby looks extremely cute but, really, don’t they all? The eight-part, 30-minute series – one available now, the rest arriving weekly – is not the familiar story of the pains and pleasures of having and nurturing a child. Instead, it’s about the hellish nightmare that is mommy-hood.
A HBO/Sky co-production set in Britain, it concerns Natasha (Michelle de Swarte), a 38-year-old single woman who, after meeting up with two girlfriends, realizes that they have both become different people from what they once were. One has a baby in her lap and the other is pleased to announce that she’s three months’ pregnant. Annoyed and a bit depressed, Natasha decides to take a break from work and stay at a remote seaside cottage. A chef and boss of her own restaurant, she figures she just needs time alone to think through her anger and resentment.
The first clue that this is an absurdist and dreamlike horror tale arrives at the cottage. It’s a dump and the woman renting it to Natasha is a taciturn complainer. One thing leads to another and a baby falls into Natasha’s arms, literally. The police arrive to take the child away but, as Natasha soon learns, the baby doesn’t want to leave her.
There is a good deal of deadpan, dry comedy as Natasha attempts to avoid mothering this mysterious baby, and the child’s deadly intention are at first presented as farce. It seems the series has the explicit intention to entertain and tell a good yarn about a ghastly baby.
But what’s going on, in the midst of all the incongruous comedy, is a statement about one particular type of motherhood. Natasha does not want a baby and never planned to have one. This baby, unplanned, is literally destroying her life, her relationships and her mind. No matter how cute the baby becomes – two especially winsome tiny tots were used in filming – its mere existence is ruinous for her. Yes, it’s very funny when Natasha attempts to interrogate this monster, but unplanned motherhood isn’t funny at all. A kind of existential dread is simmering constantly here.
Part of that dread emerges when Natasha attempts to explain to others, including her own family, that she simply doesn’t want the baby. Other women are incredulous. How could anyone not want this adorable child? It giggles, smiles and commands affection. The only person who understands is a figure who enters the situation a few episodes in. She’s a mercurial woman who, it seems, has got the baby’s number, knows it’s a monster and has been following its path through the havoc it wreaks. She tells Natasha: “He’ll bulldoze your life, destroy your relationships, and when he’s got you completely to himself, he’ll destroy you. It’s what he does.”
Well, Natasha knew that from the get-go and it’s why she fell out with her friends who morphed into maddening people when they became mothers. The literal and the metaphorical are deftly united as this deeply strange yarn gets even more twisted.
There’s a lot to admire here. De Swarte is utterly compelling as the in-charge and exasperated woman who is never, ever going to fall for this baby’s charms. At the same time, she’s not willing to either abandon or kill it. It’s complicated.
There is also wonderful work from Amber Grappy as Natasha’s terrifically innocent sister Bobbi and from veteran Sinead Cusack as Barbara, the mother who abandoned Bobbi and Natasha. The script by Sian Robins-Grace and Lucy Gaymer manages to nail down that peculiar hybrid of horror and social comedy that’s necessary in order to serve up the ghoulishness that’s beneath the central figure – the baby – and its beatific cuteness.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.