I’ll admit that when I first heard the premise of Katherine Ryan’s new Netflix series, I was struck by how familiar the plot sounded. Centred around a North American woman who gets pregnant following a one-night stand with an Irishman in London, The Duchess sounded more than a little like Channel 4’s hit comedy Catastrophe. In actuality, the storyline and comedy style are vastly different.
Following ceramic artist Katherine (Ryan) on her quest for another baby, the show attempts to delve into the rocky world of fertility, romantic relationships and not-so-perfect parenting. Having reached the age of 33 without a sibling for her 9-year-old daughter Olive, Katherine is weighing up her options between using a sperm donor to conceive and asking her daughter’s father (now her enemy ex) for a one-time-only transaction.
After developing a hate-fuelled relationship with Olive’s father, Shep, in the years since their split, Katherine's procreation proposition seems like a last resort. While it might make sense if Shep were her only option, it turns out he's not the only man in her life. Enter: handsome dentist boyfriend. Despite being in a loving relationship with Dr Evan for over a year, Katherine has a long list of reasons why he can't be the father (including something to do with her children needing to be bone marrow matches).
Her reluctance to take the plunge with her perfectly eligible boyfriend is an indication of Katherine's fear of commitment, left over from her whirlwind romance with Shep. Having met backstage at one of his gigs 10 years prior, Katherine's love affair with this '00s boy band frontman was bitter and short-lived. But despite her disdain for her former flame, she adds him to the list of contenders to father her next child, which is perhaps the first indicator that this six-part series is just a little unrealistic – the second being Katherine's unending amount of money.
Though her day job is running a pottery business called Kiln Me Softly, the single mother-of-one somehow manages to afford a Victorian townhouse near Hampstead Heath. Her attire for daily school drops-offs includes a pair of £260 pyjamas overlaid with a "world's smallest pussy" sweatshirt and her art studio is a gigantic glass extension attached to the back of her house. Combined with her propensity for booking private fertility doctor appointments with no mention of money, this doesn't do much to give the show a relatable, realistic edge. It feels more like a fantasy in which #girlboss culture reigns supreme and Adele casually buys your artwork after reading about it in The Guardian.
After being presented with realistic, culture-shifting comedies like Chewing Gum and Pure over the last few years, a show detailing the day-to-day life of an upper middle class mother does feel a little out of touch. The show does its best to be relatable with a mix of shock-value humour and British pop culture references but the result is somewhat forced.
Written by Ryan herself, the script borrows material from her standup sets, relying on a ‘cool mom’ attitude to form the bones of the character. While it's impossible to pinpoint all of the show’s influences, its obvious nods to Fleabag’s sexual candidness and Catastrophe’s transatlantic family drama make The Duchess feel more like a mashup of millennial favourites rather than a truly original comedy.
Still, the series has its plus points. The six 25-minute episodes touch on the difficulties of split families, forming new relationships and the messy, under-represented business of pregnancy planning as a single woman. It also produces a few chuckles along the way, namely during Katherine and Shep’s reenactment of their groupie-rockstar romance in a dirty alleyway.
Overall the show sits somewhere between okay and mildly entertaining. While it has all the elements of a female-fronted hit, the first world problems coupled with the seen-it-before comedy make it seem more formulaic than fresh. That being said, not all comedy has to push the boundaries; sometimes it just needs to be something to comfort us in times of uncertainty. So if you're in search of something to ease the Sunday scaries while you eat your hungover pizza, The Duchess is the show for you.
The Duchess is available to stream from 11th September on Netflix.