From Little Ricky to the Knope-Wyatt triplets, new babies on television have historically been deployed as plot points to drive characters into a new phase of life... and then, beyond a few throwaway jokes about diapers and sleepless nights, they don’t tend to actually affect the day-to-day routines of the new parents at all. And sure, babies are cute, and parenthood is (generally) fulfilling, but it’s about time there was a show that reflected how truly difficult, isolating, and life-upending babies can be.
Which is why it was great when not one, but two comedies appeared on Netflix here in the U.S. last year that tackled this exact premise. In fact, Canadian import Workin’ Moms and Australian series The Letdown, which both recently dropped their second seasons on Netflix, are so tonally similar that you could swear the mommy-and-me support groups around which both shows revolve are simply different chapters of the same global parenting cabal. Both shows tackle the physical and emotional challenges of parenthood with brutal honesty and liberals dose of awkward, cringe-worthy humor — think The Office, but with more lactation-based sight gags. (In fact, the title of The Letdown is itself a lactation pun — a joke which hardly needs to be pointed out to a certain percentage of the target demographic.)
Each of the shows has its fans, and Primetimer's Aaron Barnhart has already reviewed both Workin' Moms and The Letdown individually, but if you’re aiming to get on board with just one of these series, which should you choose?
The Letdown follows the UK/Australian model of season-sizing; Series 1, which premiered on Australian TV in fall 2017 and hit U.S. Netflix in April 2018, consisted of 7 episodes; Series 2, which ran on Australia’s ABC in April 2019 and premiered on Netflix on July 31, is only 6 episodes. Workin’ Moms, by contrast, releases 13 episodes per season, meaning there are twice as many episodes of it to enjoy. (Three seasons have run on Canadian TV so far, but for now only two are available stateside.)
A central theme of The Letdown is the sense of isolation that Audrey (played by series co-creator Alison Bell) feels as she navigates the challenges of parenting: her old friends don’t understand why it’s harder to turn up for pub quiz night, her husband isn’t exactly an equal co-parent, and even her support group is full of parents who at first seem to have everything figured out. As a result, The Letdown is really Audrey’s story in the beginning, although it gradually adds supporting characters as the group members open up to one another. After Audrey initially assumes she has nothing in common with them, single mother Martha, stay-at-home dad Ruben, and Instagram-perfect Sophie emerge as allies and strong characters in their own right.
The friendships among the core group of Workin’ Moms develop a little faster, and that’s one reason its cast feels a little more like an ensemble. The show also features a slightly more diverse cast, including one same-sex couple and two interracial couples, and while Kate (series creator Catherine Reitman, who you might recognize from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Black-Ish) is indisputably the central protagonist, the series spends enough time with other members of her parenting group, including Anne, Frankie, and Jenny, that they all feel like fully realized individuals.
Workin’ Moms has the edge here when it comes to tackling issues like postpartum psychosis and the financial challenges of raising a child. True to its title, it’s especially sensitive about the ways in which women are constantly forced to choose between being great at their careers and being great at motherhood. When she nails a promotion, Kate’s guilt at actually enjoying her job is an all-too-relatable theme that’s rarely explored in television, while Frankie, Jenny, and Anne would probably prefer not to return to work so soon but are compelled to for different reasons (and with varying degrees of success).
On the other hand, the sole working mom in The Letdown’s core group is Ester (Sacha Horler), a ball-busting corporate raider who forces her underlings to “donate” points on their driver’s licenses, and whose husband, Ruben, handles the day-to-day baby management (his presence in the “mommy” group is a frequent punchline). While Ester is occasionally torn between her high-pressure job and her need to be present with her family, the show’s thoughts on her choice to forego her full allotment of maternity leave are, unfortunately, quite clear. While it’s not entirely unsympathetic to working mothers, The Letdown’s core stories don't tend to explore their plight.
Which isn’t to say The Letdown fails at tackling important issues. The immediacy of every infant-related crisis, and the physical and emotional toll they take as they pile up, is much more central to The Letdown. (In fairness, the Workin’ Moms are, well, workin’, and by and large, their babies are slightly older.) Fleabag fans who enjoyed the philosophical sparring of that show’s second season might also find something to enjoy in The Letdown’s darkly comic multi-episode arc about the clashes between Audrey, a staunch atheist, and her husband, who suffered a crisis of faith during their daughter’s birth.
Given infinite bandwidth, both shows are absolutely worth a binge, but The Letdown’s leaner episode count and marginally drier tone may be the easier entry point. Once you’ve devoured the first season, you can choose to either keep watching or jump into Workin’ Moms for a look at what the next phase of mom life looks like.
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Jessica Liese has been writing and podcasting about TV since 2012. Follow her on Twitter at @HaymakerHattie.