There is a moment during The Baby (Sky Atlantic) in which a despairing woman yells at an infant who won’t stop crying: “What do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Now, in the case of this show, a wild comedy-horror about motherhood,
the woman has no idea what the baby wants because he has literally fallen out of the sky into her arms while she’s on a mini-break in Kent. And she suspects that he is the most evil child this side of The Omen, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his tiny wake. It’s a fairly unique set of circumstances.
But that moment also nails one of the lowest moments of real-life parenthood, when you’ve run through the checklist of Reasons Your Baby Is Crying – you’ve fed them, you’ve changed them, you’ve tried to get them to sleep using every method ever devised – and yet they are still bawling for the sixth hour running, and you’re losing your mind.
The Baby tells plenty of these little truths, right from the opening scene in which a new mum stops listening to a word her friend is saying because she’s too besotted with her little bundle of joy, and checks if the baby needs a nappy change by holding her up and having a sniff (it’s amazing how quickly that becomes an acceptable thing to do in public).
Unfortunately, despite the seed of a good idea, it turns into a mess. Series creators Lucy Gaymer and Siân Robins-Grace take the experiences of new motherhood – the panic of the early days, when you have no idea what you’re doing; the isolation and sleep deprivation; the fiercely protective instincts that mean someone taking your baby for half an hour feels like losing a limb – and cleverly weave them into a horror scenario. Natasha (Michelle de Swarte) finds her life up-ended when the baby abruptly enters her life. Is he malevolent? Or is this just a mother losing her sanity?
But what begins as an enjoyably dark and occasionally gory comedy with smart things to say about the myth of perfect motherhood ends up losing its way. There is one striking episode mid-way through, which travels back to an era when women had less autonomy than they do now. But the show becomes uneven in tone, too reliant on horror tropes (at one point we detour into Children of the Corn territory) and dull secondary storylines.
The horror is also pushed too far. A running theme is a character who wants to kill the baby with a kitchen knife. You don’t need an abundance of maternal instinct to object to that.