I could spend this entire review writing about how HBO’s The Baby is a smart and sharp allegory for the life-changing pressures of motherhood and unexpected pregnancies.
We could talk about its themes of birth control, abortion access, LGBTQ discrimination, societal pressures to procreate and then, once the kid’s arrived, the weight put on parents (and women in particular) to be a perfect caregiver even though absolutely no one has the same set of circumstances and understands what the other is going through.
But we’re two years into both a literal pandemic where everyone—especially parents and especially moms—is mentally and physically exhausted. And anyone who’s been online in the past 600-odd days knows we’re dealing with a figurative pandemic of think-pieces about all of this and how parents (read: moms because, for better or worse, dad exhaustion doesn’t get nearly the same news coverage) are beyond burned out.
Not for nothing, we just had an Oscar season where lauded movies included Parallel Mothers (the gut-wrenching story of a mother’s love and guilt over doing what’s right), The Lost Daughter (another beautiful film about a woman choosing her career over her family and just the utter depletion of self that comes with having kids), and The Worst Person in the World (a perfect film about a woman who is comfortable in the knowledge that she does not want to procreate).
So, yes, the eight episode series The Baby—which was created by Siân Robins-Grace and Lucy Gaymer—is very much all of these things listed here (as of the first six episodes provided for review). And, like all good horror movies and TV that are allegories for real-world socio-political issues, it is very sly in its treatment of them.
This could be a review that discusses all of these things, and more.
But you know, I don’t wanna.
I’m tired. I’m tired of writing—and sometimes writing about parenting—after a day of parenting my own kids. I’m tired of the parenting essays and viral tweets about how hard it is for everyone (moms) right now because, well, duh. Your 1,200-word thesis in The New York Times isn’t going to change that fact.
And I get this horror-comedy’s wink-wink, nudge-nudge that its protagonist, Michelle de Swarte’s Natasha (Tash), is a woman who wants zero to do with parenting and is fed up that her life is forced to change because all of her friends are starting to procreate. And that, of course, she’s the latest one to be suddenly stuck with a murderous baby who has spent decades gloming onto women until he ruins their lives before finding an elaborate way to kill them after they’ve served their purposes (choking on a cookie; jumping off a cliff).
And honestly, I imagine you’re tired too. Even if you aren’t a parent—or you are one and you love every little thing about being one and are never, ever exhausted even after throwing that color-coordinated construction site-themed birthday for your three-year-old that may or may not have been a firing shot at the other parents (mothers) in the kid’s preschool class—you don’t need another writer telling you about the satiric mastery of The Baby and how it fits into the cultural zeitgeist of tired parents (moms) being tired.
So I want to spend the rest of this review looking at one of the other characters in the miniseries: The baby. As much as it is a story about Tash’s own ambivalence toward reproducing and judgment against people who do, it’s also about a child so scared that his mother (Sex Education’s Tanya Reynolds) doesn’t want him and has abandoned him that he seems destined to spend eternity looking for her—or at least for a mother who will care for him for even a modicum of time. The show mentions again and again that he’s just a baby (the very face of innocence!) even if he seems to be capable of bloody, bloody murder. It’s a horrifying reminder of the very disturbing truth that children are not always born into a world immediately loved, and that parents have the power to hurt their kids in life-altering ways.
??In The Baby, Tash and her sister (Amber Grappy’s too-sweet-for-this-world Bobbi) were abandoned by their own mother, Barbara (Sinéad Cusack). Meanwhile, Amira Ghazalla plays Mrs. Eaves, a transient living out of her car who has been stalking the nameless tiny human for half a decade. She wants Tash, and has presumably wanted others, to kill the kid because she believes this will end his cycle of destroying innocent women. Tash can’t bring herself to do it because (again) it’s a freakin’ baby, and also because the baby has begun to represent her own issues of abandonment and how she can’t move past them. She still carries her own pain with her just as this mind-controlling infant is doomed to crawl the earth looking for someone who will love him.
By being able to use their platform to tell a story about the implications of unplanned pregnancy and unwanted motherhood on both sides, creators Robins-Grace and Gaymer are making more than just a feminist statement about the burdons put upon parents (moms). They have also found a smart way to look at the discussions of generational trauma that we’ve also seen on shows like Netflix’s Russian Doll and Prime Video’s Transparent.
How will our children feel when they reach adulthood and find Mommy’s essay about how exhausted she was raising them? Will they spend time in a therapist’s office to understand where parental outbursts and general crankiness came from during these formative years of their lives? Will they absolve their parents for these sins? Those are questions that make this show particularly prescient.
Or am I overthinking all of this and just need a nap?
The Baby premieres Sunday, April 24th on HBO, and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter, and very photogenic cat.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.