BARNHART

Netflix's The Letdown is Anything But

This absorbing Australian comedy about parenting a newborn is full of moments both absurd and tender.
  • Stevie and Audrey (Alison Bell) take a time out in The Letdown (Netflix)
    Stevie and Audrey (Alison Bell) take a time out in The Letdown (Netflix)
    Overwhelmed by Peak TV? Aaron Barnhart is your guide to the good, the great, and the skippable. Twice weekly on Primetimer.

    The Letdown
    Season 1
    Watch on Netflix
    Season 2 drops July 31

    It’s a testimony to how vividly The Letdown reenacts the exhausting, disorienting, and sometimes mortifying first year of parenthood that one commenter in the Primetimer forums called it “very triggering lol” — and her twins are now 17.

    Season 1 of this Australian comedy (which Netflix began airing worldwide in 2018) follows the amusing and often poignant travails of four women whose worlds slowly intertwine through new mommy group. Unlike Workin’ Moms, a Netflix pickup from Canada that I reviewed earlier, the ladies of The Letdown are thrown together thanks to a government-funded initiative to provide support to all new mums, regardless of income.

    <i>Alison Bell plays a new mom blindsided by all the changes in her life in The Letdown. (Netflix)</i>

    Which is how a mover and shaker like Ester (Sacha Horler), a financial-services executive who had a luxury water birth, winds up sitting on a folding chair next to Barb (Celeste Barber), a stay-at-home mom who had baby number three in a store parking lot. Or how Sophie (Lucy Durack), who posts her model mommy moments on Instagram, ends up bonding with Audrey (Alison Bell), a disheveled, atheistic, feminist who is finding absolutely nothing about motherhood glamorous.

    Over the course of seven episodes, we see these women form unlikely partnerships, as they realize only their fellow postpartum survivors can really understand what fresh hell they’re going through.

    <i>Just another invigorating day in the life of a new parent. (Netflix)</i>

    To be sure, they each have quirky, made-for-TV personas, especially Audrey (played by Bell, the show’s co-creator with Sarah Scheller). Tormented by her daughter Stevie’s 3 a.m. crying spells, Audrey drives her little one around their dodgy neighborhood until they're both exhausted. This leads to comically surreal dialogue between Audrey and a drug dealer (Patrick Brammall) in the show’s opening scene. He will become an improbable Kramer-like presence in her life.

    Back home, her partner Jeremy (Duncan Fellows) struggles to balance his support for Audrey with his desire to get a promotion at work. The birth of Stevie has driven a wedge between the couple, one that they are only dimly beginning to comprehend. We see it initially in their reactions to Stevie’s performance at mothers’ group.

    “She’s failing,” Audrey says despairingly. “She’s the best looking, but she is the worst one there.”

    “Who cares?” says Jeremy, looking puzzled. “It’s not a competition.”

    “Yeah, that’s what losers say,” she retorts.

    <i>Alison Bell plays Audrey, whose life is upended by tiny Stevie in The Letdown. (Netflix)</i>

    But Bell and Scheller are trying to do more than play common, new-parent fears for laughs. Like Detectorists, The Letdown can abruptly shift tone from absurd to tender with surprising results.

    For instance, in the second episode, Audrey mishears the direction to bring her favorite parenting book to the mommy group, and pulls out a favorite literary read — Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Embarrassed that she has no self-help guide at home, Audrey refuses the help of the resourceful Sophie, who has baby books to spare, and quickly sneaks off to the bookstore. Where she runs into Sophie. From there, however, things take an unexpected turn as this practically perfect mother is betrayed by her own bodily fluids, forcing Audrey to come to her rescue. Afterward, Sophie quickly recovers and turns her disaster into yet another Instagram moment.

    <i>Jeremy (Duncan Fellows) is the well-meaning but overwhelmed partner of Audrey (Alison Bell) in The Letdown. (Netflix)</i>

    The Letdown bears some resemblance to Workin’ Moms, perhaps owing to the fact that both shows were written by women just speaking their truth. Both use the mommy group as a stand-in for the café or restaurant in more traditional sitcoms. Both have scenes showing one of the moms pumping milk in a ladies’ room stall, indicating perhaps a global shortage of dedicated breast-pumping stations in the workplace.

    But Workin’ Moms is, as the title suggests, a workplace comedy all about the moms, whose significant others are so peripheral, that the actors playing them could be swapped out each episode and most viewers wouldn’t even notice. The Letdown lets us into the lives of the couples, all of whom are in their thirties or forties and (except for Barb) spend the show’s first season reeling from the aftershocks inflicted by a single tiny human.

    <i>Barb (Celeste Barber) wows the kids on Careers Day by showing up as a SAHM (stay at home mum) in The Letdown. (Netflix)</i>

    The action mainly revolves around Audrey and Jeremy’s hapless attempts at parenting, and the strains it puts on their relationship. Audrey, a classic sitcom character who is alternately overconfident and wracked with self-doubt, is also the show’s most relatable character, embodying every new mother’s fear that life will never be the same after baby, and it might not be all that much fun again, either.

    The Letdown (the title is a reference to both a breastfeeding maneuver and the postpartum blues) is an absorbing exploration of that magical and terrifying time when adults become grown-ups, and are overwhelmed by the differences, staggering through baby's first year, secretly tormented by the thought that they might not be up to the challenge.

    “I am seriously bad at this,” Audrey blubbers at one point. “Maybe I peaked when I was thirteen. I was really popular. I had a job at the Hard Rock Cafe. I never have baby wipes on me!

    Very triggering, lol.

    People are talking about The Letdown in our forums. Join the conversation.

    Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star. Sign up to get all his Primetimer reviews at tvbarn.com.

    TOPICS: The Letdown, Netflix