Katherine Ryan Channels Her Own Life Experiences Into Quirky Netflix Comedy Series ‘The Duchess’
A single mother’s quest to have a second baby is chronicled in “The Duchess,” the latest comedy series from Netflix. Stand-up comedian Katherine Ryan created and stars in this show that is partly based on her own life. Like Ryan, her on-screen alter ego has an interesting background, being a former Hooters waitress from Canada who emigrated to the United Kingdom and now lives in London with her daughter. For better or worse, foul-mouthed Katherine plays by her own rules, even when she is accused of being an agent of chaos.
Devoted to her daughter Olive (Kate Byrne), Katherine promises to give her a sibling for her ninth birthday. Unfortunately, her original plan to use donated sperm falls apart in the first episode after she visits the clinic and gets creeped out by the fact that most of the donors are barely out of high school. Furthermore, she is discouraged by the fertility doctor who isn’t pleased that she is (yikes!) 33. But when the same doc also chastises her for bringing her young child to her appointment, he sounds pretty reasonable.
Indeed, Katherine has boundary issues with her daughter, whom she sees to view as an extension of herself. She is fiercely protective of her kid, sometimes to a fault, and she makes it her mission to protect Olive from the bullies at her snobby school. While a parent sticking up for their child is a good thing, Katherine takes things too far in her feud with fellow mom Jane (Sophie Fletcher), a type A recovering alcoholic, when she sends nude photos of herself to Jane’s husband. Oddly enough, the two women later become friends.
After deciding against an anonymous sperm donor, Katherine considers other options. Her best one seems to be getting knocked up by Evan (Steen Raskopoulos), her dentist boyfriend of over a year who is crazy about her. However, she keeps him at arm’s length, as she has trust issues stemming from her failed relationship with Olive’s father, Shep (Rory Keenan), a former boy bander who now lives off the grid in a houseboat. Ironically, Katherine ends up coming to the conclusion that Shep is the best candidate to put a baby in her, reasoning that despite his obvious flaws, he did manage to give her a great kid once before.
Katherine’s best friend, Bev (Michelle de Swarte, whose more laid-back performance balances out Ryan’s), serves as the voice of reason most of the time. The two own a business together making pottery, and Bev seems to have found success in her personal life where Katherine has failed. The pair first met when Shep was in a cheesy boy band with Tom (Anwar Lynch), Bev’s then-boyfriend to whom she is now married and has multiple children with. But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, as the pair’s sex life has become pretty lame.
Ryan deserves props for seeing her vision through and creating a female character who makes no apologies about who she is and doesn’t suffer from the excess amount of guilt that plagues most women, especially mothers. And Katherine is almost always fabulously dressed. However, she isn’t the most likable character a lot of the time, such as when she tells an uptight but not completely unreasonable adoption case worker to “eat a dick” and keep her “crack babies.” There are plenty of moments where Ryan should have aimed higher and pulled back a bit on the colorful language, although there are times when Katherine’s vulgar outbursts are warranted, such as when she’s ambushed on stage at a so-called feminist convention.
Katherine’s saving grace is her love for her daughter, and while she is far from perfect as a mother, she does get the parenting thing right at least some of the time, such as when she has Olive make peace with her former bully. Olive is a pretty decent kid, and unlike her mom, she experiences much personal growth by the last episode.
With just six episodes that run less than 30 minutes each, the first season of “The Duchess” is a pretty easy watch. The finale episode ends on a high note, although most viewers probably won’t be waiting on the edge of their seats for season two.
“The Duchess” begins streaming Sept. 11 on Netflix.