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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Duchess’ On Netflix, Where Katherine Ryan Plays A Bawdy Single Mom Contemplating Having Another Baby

Despite her Canadian roots, Katherine Ryan is probably better known in England than she is on this side of the Atlantic. But the glimpses we’ve seen of her on various series shows us a persona that’s brash and bawdy, but tries to be classy and fashionable at the same time. And if she’s going to play a mom on a show she created and wrote, she sure as heck will be different than the other parents dropping their kids off at school. Read more about The Duchess.

THE DUCHESS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

Opening Shot: A mom is walking her daughter to school; the mom is Canadian, but her daughter is British. The mom looks like she threw on a sweatshirt that says “World’s Smallest Pussy” over her pajamas.

The Gist: Katherine (Katherine Ryan) is a single mother to her precocious 9 year-old daughter Olive (Katy Byrne), and she’s not afraid to be a bold and bawdy mum, as the sweatshirt she wears indicates. Katherine very much enjoys being Olive’s mom and how close they are; and when she finds out that a classmate named Millie (Beau Gadson) is still bullying Olive, she has no problem smacking the coffee out of the hand of Millie’s mom and confronting her about her parenting right in front of the other moms.

She owns an interesting business; she creates pottery that is shaped like naked female bodies. Very tasteful stuff, just naked. While at work, she gets a surprise visit by her boyfriend Evan (Steen Raskopoulos), a very nice dentist whom she sees on weekends, when Olive is with her father Shep (Rory Keenan). He brings peonies for Olive’s birthday, expressing desire to get more involved with Katherine, but she’s more dismayed than touched. Her assistant and friend Sandra (Maya Jama) wonders why she’s been keeping him at bay; “we’re in our thirties. That’s what we’re working with. He’s lovely.” Katherine thinks that if he’s around her more, he’ll like her less.

For Olive’s birthday, Katherine and Olive go to visit Shep at his houseboat; the former boy band member shows up late and shirtless and gives Olive sticks of dynamite. Katherine is reminded once again that it’s almost miraculous that the smart and sweet Olive came from half of Shep’s DNA.

Olive asks for quite an unusual birthday present: A visit to a fertility clinic. She wants a sibling and Katherine has been contemplating having another baby, having had Olive when she was only 23. Olive thinks the doctors collect “blood” from men instead of what they really collect. But when Katherine sees that the sperm donors recommended to her are essentially teenagers, she thinks that she could get the sperm from Shep. It worked out once, she figured, it would work out again. But Evan is right there, and when they go out on the weekend, she makes him feel like such a meaningless part of her life that he goes home early.

The Duchess
Photo: Simon Ridgway/NETFLIX © 2020

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Duchess feels like it’s got a lot of British parenting shows in its DNA, like Breeders and Catastrophe. The parents are walking their kids to school, and being more irreverent and immature than the kids are. At least in The Duchess, the kid is treated as more than an afterthought.

Our Take: If you’re not familiar with Katherine Ryan, her standup act has had the same kind of vibe she gives The Duchess, which she created and wrote. (Both Glitter Room and In Trouble, her two most recent stand-up specials, are on Netflix.) Bawdy and brash, she’s a Canadian in England who doesn’t kowtow to British politeness.

Because that personality is translated to the fictional version of herself, there are moments during the first episode where we laughed heartily at Katherine’s antics. We mean, who wouldn’t appreciate putting the bully’s mom on the spot with naked selfies, claiming that the mom’s husband took them, then claiming the mom brought porn onto campus when she goes and talks to the principal?

The rest of the episode, though, is more than a little ridiculous, with Katherine and Shep being complete cartoon characters, to the point where we wonder a) how Olive can be so well-adjusted with two differently-narcissistic parents and b) how “normals” like Sandra and Evan put up with them.

Except when she’s with Olive, Katherine is more or less self-involved and callous, like when she tells Evan, “I don’t want to lose you.. Equally, though, I don’t want to be trapped by you either.” So she basically wants things the way she wants them, with Evan in his proper place, no matter what he may want. Did Shep burn her that badly or is she that big of a jerk? We’re not sure, and that’s the problem.

Her logic in choosing Shep to donate sperm for another child also makes no sense, because their second collaboration could be the polar opposite of Olive; it’s not like you get a carbon copy of the first child when you have the second one. But her asking Shep, who says he has to check with “my team”, makes for a lot of comedic possibilities, and in her mind it contains less entanglements than having a child with Evan. But in a logical world, not a TV world, Evan would have dumped Katherine long ago and she would have never considered Shep to be a baby daddy for a second time.

When these situations are clearly forced for comedy reasons, we start to turn away from a show. However, Ryan has created a show for herself that fits her quite well, so as things go along her character might ease up into someone we’ll actually like.

Sex and Skin: Lots of talk, including mention of the size of Katherine’s vagina, but no action.

Parting Shot: After Shep says he’s going to have to run Katherine’s offer by “my legal team,” he says, “They love me. Even when they hate me, they love me,” and he walks away. Katherine looks at him walking away wondering if this was a good idea.

Sleeper Star: Katy Byrne is pretty funny as Olive, especially when she talks to the fertility doctor about why she’s there with her mom, an unusual move.

Most Pilot-y Line: Evan comes back to Katherine after she puts him in the box she wants him in and says, “By some miracle, you got Olive out of Shep. Shep! Imagine what you can out of a decent guy?” What is all this “get out of” stuff?

Our Call: STREAM IT. We like Ryan enough to recommend The Duchess, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the fictional version of her starts to grate after awhile.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

Stream The Duchess On Netflix



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