Being from a family with grown children, all of whom live away from home and in different locations to our parents, its pretty unusual that we spend an evening (mostly – sorry middle sister) all together watching a TV drama. United by family gatherings for school/uni holidays/Good Friday, however, an opportunity presented itself last night. After some channel flicking and a brief flirtation with old episodes of Jimmy Fallon, we settled on the ABC’s broadcast of recent crime/family/psychological drama A Mother’s Son, starring Hermione Norris (who we collectively love, thank you Spooks and Kingdom) and Martin Clunes (who we collectively adore, thank you Doc Marten, William and Mary and just being generally lovely).
At first we were drawn in, after all, the premise of the show was quite gripping: if you suspected your son of a violent and horrific crime, how would you react to that? It’s an entirely valid question for art to grapple with; where should a parent draw the line when protecting and loving a child, while struggling with the total despair that the discovery that your child is a violent criminal. These are real dilemmas, and they deserve real exploration.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before our enthralled gasps, turned to mirthful giggles and despair at the execution of the show.
Now, I know not coming from a family with any murderers in it, that this is all hypothetical, but for pretty much the whole episode all four of us were shouting at the tv screen “JUST TAKE THE TRAINERS TO THE POLICE AND ABSOLVE YOURSELF FROM THESE FEELINGS OF GUILT AND UNCERTAINTY”. After all, if your child is a murderer and you’re fundamentally going to insist they turn themselves in, then why not, just get the whole thing over with, hand it to the professionals and love and support your child through the whole ordeal. Yes, I can hear parents responding “It’s not that simple, the instinct is to protect the child.”
Maybe. My instinct is not to make a TV show that everything is so transparent that the detectives fail to achieve anything in their investigation, that the outcome is known in the first minutes of viewing the show and where Martin Clunes is forced to stop being married to you because you obsessively deny that the human blood on your son’s sneakers “really belongs to a fox” and that there is no need for you to tell anyone about it at all. Attempted gritty camera work and stark emotional realism doth not an episode of Broadchurch make.
This show had a pretty solid cast, and although Nicola Walker played the most impotent detective in television history, it was still nice to see her. Ditto, Martin Clunes as typically loving and supportive but morally uncompromising husband. Admittedly, he and Hermione Norris did a really good job of struggling through the dilemmas of a second marriage with teenage kids, and the difficulties in navigating the minefield wherein. But really, it just wasn’t enough. Obviously, given the title and the plot, the shows’ intention was to explore the maternal role and relationship, but really too many heady closeups on Norris ended up eliminating whatever “internal struggle” we were supposed to recognise, and rendering the whole thing ludicriously short sighted and foolish. Not helped by the cringeworthy dialogue in the final confrontation scene: “Jamie you’re not a bad person but you’ve done a bad thing, and you need to be punished.” Cue awkward shifting in seats.
Somewhat confused for a moment about whether or not we were watching A Mother’s Son, or Mother and Son, my Dad remarked “well this is about as funny as Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald.” Actually, Dad, I think we laughed more during last night’s broadcast than we would in Mother and Son, so there you have it, but that may not be a good thing.