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HBOs The Baby
Image: HBO

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HBO’s The Baby has fun with a taboo subject

The Baby Season One Review

Not every film or television genre can broach any topic. Some are barely willing to. Action movies are not especially innovative with respect to their stories or themes. Dramas can push the boundaries a little bit, although the more successful ones tend to pour some water into their wine. Comedies, well, given the current times, suffice to say comedy as a genre is experiencing its own delicate chapter in western culture’s history. Horror, now is a genre that can and has explored all sorts of themes and ideas. More critically, it gets away with it. HBO recently concluded its run of The Baby, a horror-comedy miniseries that exemplifies the genre’s boldness. 

The Baby originates from the creative minds of a small army of British women. Producer by Lucy Gaymer, written by Siân Robins-Grace, Sophie Goodhart, Anchuli Felicie King, and directed by Nicoles Kassall, Stacey Greg, and Faraz Shariat, among others. This collective of creators has come together to delve into the horrors of an idea few would dare touch: being a mother can be a horrifying experience. Fair play, that sentence stretches the show’s true nature a bit, but there is a whiff of the taboo about what the creative team stirs up.

Chilling set-up

Natasha (Michelle de Swarte) is a too-cool-for-school woman in her late 30s. Unmarried, seemingly uninterested in changing that, she enjoys poker nights with her two best friends. One announces she is with child. The other is called into motherhood action by a crying infant. All Natasha can do is roll her eyes and do a remarkably poor attempt at feigning polite interest. Thinking she needs to get away for a bit, the protagonist rents a seaside cabin. Her respite is short-lived, as she witnesses the splattering death of a young woman who falls from the cliff overhead. And then, in the nick of time, her outstretched arms catch a falling baby. The infant seems unperturbed by the events and takes a liking to Natasha. If only it were a heroic gesture!

Michelle de Swarte
Image: HBO

Pretty soon Natasha cannot rid herself of the child. It unexpectedly appears out of nowhere wherever Natasha goes, not to mention the trail of death it leaves in its wake. Pretty soon the adventure drags Natasha’s sister Bobbi (Amber Grappy) into the mix, as well as an elderly woman (Amira Ghazalla). The mysterious lady wants to help Natasha but is reticent about revealing what her connection to the baby is. 

You Can’t Say That!

That The Baby is driven by a female-centric creative team is a critical advantage. From the producers, writers, and directors, to the main cast, virtually everyone significant involved is a woman. Rather than serve as obvious brownie points, it provides the proceedings with genuine heft. Theoretically, a team of male writers and directors could have made the series, but something about it would have felt off. Both parents shoulder the weight of significant responsibility, few would debate the point. When push comes to shove (pun intended), the fairer sex traditionally has a lot more to do. It requires more time, more physical effort, more patience, more sacrifice, more messes to clean up, more diapers to change, and listening to crying, yelling, crying, yelling, crying, yelling…

Newborn humans are at the world’s mercy. They aren’t like birds or lions who need a few weeks or months of nurturing and then tossed into the wild. The human baby cannot do anything for itself. It is utterly helpless, entirely dependent on the parent’s care. Who better to provide that than good old mom? The Baby’s antagonist is dependency personified. Therein lies one of the show’s memorable strengths. As is so often the case with horror, the miniseries takes a deeply personal reality, in this case, motherhood, and sends it off into the deep end. The admirable experience of being a mother is filtered through a story about a baby that literally will not allow its caretaker a moment of sleep and kills anyone that gets in the way. Even the dog dies.

The Baby must die
Image: HBO

There is something to be said about the show’s moxie. It’s not every day a movie or television show comes along in which the end game is to murder a baby because it is unequivocally and irrevocably evil. The completely preposterous setup lends itself effortlessly to indulging in an experience that doesn’t care one iota about causing some feathers to bristle. 

Who’s Your Mommy?

A great setup such as The Baby’s requires strong casting. To that effect, Michelle de Swarte is a delightful lead. The British actress excels playing Natasha, a character who personifies the antithesis of everything society expects of a lady. She likes to have a good time with her mates, smoke, drink, and manage her restaurant. The mention of motherhood practically has her throw up in her mouth. A premise such as this one would have floundered if the show took itself too seriously, and De Swarte plays a fun character. Her political incorrectness is a strength as much for entertaining the audience as offering a very different appreciation of what being a mother must be like. 

Every terrific lead warrants a memorable sidekick. Relative newcomer Amber Grappy plays Natasha’s sister Bobbi. Their paths diverged a few years ago and remained disconnected in the intervening years. A text message mistakenly sent by Bobbi reacquaints the sisters. Grappy is just as much fun as de Swarte whilst playing a completely different character. A lesbian, Bobbi is bubbly, a magician in training, and desperate to adopt a child with her partner. The sisters are virtually nothing alike, to say nothing of the old wounds their misadventure reopens. Grappy imbues Bobbi is a sense of fun and earnestness that perfectly contrasts with her sister’s equally hysterical negativity. 

The Baby
Image: HBO

Being a Parent is Complicated

Things don’t come easy for Natasha throughout The Baby. On the topic of challenging hurdles, if The Baby has a weakness, it is the writing, if only partially. One can only imagine and speculate what an 8-episode version show would have been like had it resisted delving into the eponymous baddie’s mythology. Alas, like many scripts graced with marvellous hooks, producer Lucy Gaymer and her team feel it imperative to provide viewers with as full an explanation as possible about where the infantile evil originated from. 

Its backstory is not necessarily poor. In fact, it helps anchor some of the show’s themes about how the world is lacking in love. That said, the manner with which The Baby goes about peppering its episodes with the details is occasionally cumbersome. An entire episode is devoted to backstory, and while some of it is interesting, it could have been done in a flashback. As such, the series lacks some focus, not to mention that it is simply more entertaining when it concentrates on the madness that has unfortunately befallen Natasha. Furthermore, said madness gets the point across quite efficiently.

Image: HBO

The finale aired on June 12th, so the show in its entirety can be viewed at one’s leisure. It’s not very long, with only 8 episodes, none of which last more than 30 minutes. The leads are terrific, the premise’s boldness is delicious, and it is consistently funny. Not all episodes are peak entertainment, some of which get bogged down in messy backstory. 

Hmm. Something messy, uneven, but ultimately very rewarding and worthwhile. Sound like something familiar? 

-Edgar Chaput

Written By

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar Chaput has written and podcasted about pop culture since 2011. At first a blogger, then a contributor to Tilt's previous iteration (Sound on Sight), he now helps cover tv and film on a weekly basis. In addition to enjoying the Hollywood of yesteryear and martial arts movies, he is a devoted James Bond fan. English, French, and decent at faking Spanish, don't hesitate to poke him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/double_oh_Pop), Facebook or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/edchap14/).

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