“Wonderful until disappointing” is how I would describe my experience as I sat down to watch “The Duchess,” a new show written and created by Canadian-born British comedian Katherine Ryan. The show follows Katherine, a single mother, as she takes care of both herself and her witty daughter Olive while considering the possibility of having another child. Throughout, she also juggles relationships with her daughter’s father, Shep, an ex-boy band singer and thoroughly horrible person, and Evan, a responsible if tame dentist.
The comedy of the show revolves around Katherine’s aggressively sharp remarks and comebacks, often verging on the border of rudeness. She calls children who are up for adoption “crackhead babies,” insults a child’s learning disability and in an elaborate scheme for revenge against her daughter’s bully, Katherine sends her nudes to the bully’s mother to sabotage her marriage. Without context, these actions are distasteful at the very least, but very likely verging on disgusting behavior. However, the manner through which Ryan delivers her insults ensure a laugh-out-load moment.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Katherine is a horrible person. Her character serves to inflict the maximum amount of discomfort to everyone around her and portrays a natural TV personification of the comedy Ryan often performs herself. After watching her appearances on the game shows “Taskmaster” and “Eight out of Ten Cats does Countdown,” I had already become accustomed to Ryan’s quick-wit, often feminist-influenced insult comedy. It was because of her previous game show experience that I was ecstatic to discover that Ryan was leading the creation of her own show. Yet, as faithful to her comedy as it can be, the show becomes a mess by the last episode and ultimately sours the story.
Because Katherine is a horrible person, one would expect for her not to get what she wants and reap the consequences, or to either see substantial character growth warranting a happy ending.
Katherine undermines her relationship with Evan and eventually cheats on him so she can get pregnant with her low-life ex-boyfriend. Her motivation to have another child is only pushed by Olive’s desire to have another sibling, and the mental gymnastics Katherine pulls off to validate having another child with Shep is worthy of a gold medal. Each passing episode demonstrates just how far Katherine is willing to go to manipulate and damage her relationships just so that she can land insults.
Ultimately, it’s the ending of “The Duchess” that solidifies the questionable morals. While the show rejects many stereotypes of what being a single mother is and what is expected of a female lead, this commentary gets buried by an unsatisfying ending. Is it feminist to have an unlikable female protagonist achieve their goal without any growth on their part? Should people remain insufferably narcissistic and be rewarded for their horrible behavior? I would hope not, however it appears that’s exactly what Katherine Ryan puts forward.