The Duchess is the brand new Netflix series depicting a colourful picture of solo parenting. Set in present day London, the six-episode production is written by Katherine Ryan, who also stars and acts as executive producer. Those familiar with Ryan’s stand-up shows will recognise this project as an extended exploration of the themes and the persona she usually brings to the stage.
The series has so many autobiographical elements that the protagonist herself is actually named Katherine Ryan. The fictional Katherine is an artist juggling work, motherhood, a new boyfriend and a huge personal project: that of bringing into the world a sibling for her daughter Olive. Katherine decides that the quickest and most hassle-free way to realise this wish is through artificial insemination, and so she goes to a fertility clinic with Olive on the girl’s birthday.
Olive’s father is a less than desirable ex, and while Katherine’s eager new beau Evan can help her out of the drama, she is firmly focused on what is best for her daughter. From its depiction of relationships as battles of egos to the parents’ aggressive exchanges during school runs, The Duchess portrays a material and crude world that seems to savour in the dysfunctional rather than consider it problematic. The protagonist is unapologetically superficial, rude and petty, passing on questionable credos and foul vocabulary to her child. The imbalance in the dynamics of their mother-daughter relationship, which resembles a teen friendship more than anything else, provides the foundation for the comedy as Katherine’s immature streak frequently takes over.
The jokes are not so punchy, however, and often seem to rely on shock value. An interesting element is the deliberate shaking up of gender stereotypes, but since there there are no powerful threads from a dramatic perspective and no character progression, The Duchess cannot be deemed compelling overall. It is, rather, the equivalent of a glossy magazine (and there certainly is a strong focus on style and aesthetics), and it may appeal to an audience looking for some light entertainment.
The Duchess is released digitally on demand on 11th September 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Duchess here: