Mum establishes itself as the new queen of observational and awkward comedy, albeit with moments of genuine emotion.
Comedy is all the better when it’s heartfelt. If you think of the biggest comedy series around – Gavin & Stacey, The Royle Family, Friends, How I Met Your Mother – they all pack an emotional punch behind the big laughs. In Mum, the new BBC comedy from Him & Her writer Stefan Golaszewski, the humour is so painful that it’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.
Following in the footsteps of Golaszewski’s previous effort, Mum is a comedy all about awkward, observational humour, that makes you shift in your seat with discomfort, rather than explode with laughter. Award-winning actress Lesley Manville leads the proceedings as Cathy, the titular ‘mum’, and the first episode opens on the day of her husband’s funeral. It doesn’t sound like the funniest thing in the world, but Cathy’s dysfunctional family are brilliantly eccentric and will make you laugh – when you don’t want to throw things at the telly.
Cathy meets her son Jason’s (Sam Swainsbury) new girlfriend Kelly (Lisa McGrillis) for the first time ahead of the funeral. Kelly is painfully airheaded, but Lisa McGrillis does an excellent job of still making her three dimensional. For example, in one scene she explains to Cathy that she was controlled by her previous abusive boyfriend, who liked her to wear short skirts. Her love for Jason, and how well he treats her, is delightful to watch; though it’s cringe-worthy when she starts asking his mum when he’s going to propose. The other cast feel pretty redundant at this stage, especially Cathy’s brother’s new girlfriend Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson), who’s just downright unpleasant and an unneeded reminder that horrible people exist in the world. Though Peter Mullan is genuinely likeable as Michael, it feels a bit early at this stage for Cathy to have a love interest. She’s still deep in grief for her husband.
Manville is perfection as ‘the normal one’, the mum that the entire family hangs on to. In one of the opening scenes, Cathy perches on the front wall, and receives a parcel from the postman addressed to her dead husband. Though she doesn’t speak, or even break her steely composure, her pain is felt quite bitterly by the audience. Ever quirky, the scene is backed with ‘Cups’ (aka the ‘Cup Song’, from Pitch Perfect), but it fits the tone of the show perfectly; it’s a song that is somehow melancholy and upbeat at the same time. It’s all about hope in desperate places; hope in the form of your mum.
Mum airs on Thursdays at 10pm on BBC Two. The first episode is available now on BBC iPlayer.