There’s a certain kind of cheap thrill you get when something you had low expectations for somehow manages to be even worse. Good news: being a hater sometimes pays off. And while nobody was expecting the Mother and Son reboot to be anything more than exactly what the words “Mother and Son reboot” promise, the first episode somehow managed to deliver so much less than that.
Just to be clear, it’s perfectly possible to imagine somebody coming away from this episode thinking “that wasn’t too bad”. They would be wrong, and you’ve just wasted five seconds imaging some pointless nightmare creature that never should have existed. But, just for the sake of balance, we’ll admit that Denise Scott fans were well served. Visually it looked like an inoffensive lightweight drama. If you like Matt Okine’s work, seek professional help.
For everyone else, this was a pointless insult at best and 27 minutes of absolutely nothing at worst. It was an attempt to bring a sitcom created at a time when comedy was 110% about being funny into an era where actually trying to make an audience laugh is little more than an optional extra. We came to see a mother and son go at each other hammer and tongs: what we got was two people who occasionally found themselves in the same room.
Maybe the words “executive produced by Matt Okine” should have been warning enough. Okine – who also stars, because Australia no longer has sitcom writers, only performers who think they can write – plays Arthur as his typical stunted manchild character. You might think that would work here. It does not.
It doesn’t work because… well, there are a lot of reasons really. But okay: let’s accept that Okine was always going to play Arthur, and that Okine’s well-established limitations as a writer and performer aren’t automatically fatal – basically, that there could be a good version of Mother and Son featuring Okine as Arthur. Then this this version of the show is still shithouse, because there’s no stakes.
The tone of the first episode makes it clear that if Arthur’s mum would get off his back, he’d happily live with her. There’s no sense that he’s trapped, nothing to suggest he even wants other options aside from an ex he half-heartedly tries to win back. This version of Arthur is just an aimless drifter with dreams of a successful website; he also has a roomate who just happens to be his mum.
Maggie is slightly more interesting, both as a character and because Scott is actually funny. But again, aside from a kitchen fire (that we don’t see), there’s not a lot here to suggest she really needs Arthur around. And without the central idea that we have two people stuck with each other – people who in many ways make each other worse but can’t survive without each other – there’s no comedy.
Oh sure, there’s a bit of banter. Maggie pulls a few stunts here and there. But without audiences bringing some preconceived idea of what “Mother and Son” is about to proceedings, this is just an oddly aimless lightweight drama. It’s a show about trying to put mum in a nursing home so the kids can sell the house before deciding “nah, we can make even more money if we wait until the guy next door dies”.
The only way this approach makes any sense is as an attempt to bring one of Australia’s best sitcoms into the era of stuff like… well, stuff that Matt Okine makes for starters. Inner city hangout shows where bland characters exchange “realistic” dialogue. The goal isn’t so much laughter as keeping you just engaged enough that you don’t change the channel. These aren’t shows you watch, they’re shows you have on in the background.
The original Mother and Son was made by people who knew that for the premise of the show to work, there had to be an edge to it. Desperation and need; they’re not always essential to comedy, but they don’t hurt either. The original often had people asking if Maggie had dementia, which was a little dark even then and today is the kind of area the ABC isn’t going anywhere near. Suffice to say, that’s not a question you’ll come away asking here.
Though you might have cause to wonder about your own mental health if you come back next week.