Entertainment TV The Letdown’s Alison Bell on the ‘normal’ side effects of motherhood

The Letdown’s Alison Bell on the ‘normal’ side effects of motherhood

Alison Bell (as Audrey in The Letdown) says motherhood shame is real and "weird." Photo: ABC
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There’s a broad range of “normal” side effects that come with being a new parent. Traumatised from a messy birth? You’ll get over it, they say. Too tired for sex? It comes with the territory.

Sure, others have survived. But in polite society we tend to discount the ongoing effects that inevitably accompany such a huge shift in lifestyle.

TV shows about parenthood also avoid talking about these ‘too real’ topics which were the driving force behind The Letdown, an ABC comedy which made a splash in 2017.

Last year it beat out a strong lineup including Hannah Gadbsy’s Nanette to win best TV comedy series at the AACTA Awards.

So co-creators Alison Bell (who stars as Audrey) and Sarah Scheller set out to start a different conversation, they tell The New Daily.

“These things aren’t talked about because they happen to women,” Scheller says. “If men had to go through labor, it would be the number one issue.”

Bell, a mother of one, says a lot of new parents feel shamed into staying silent, fearing they’re not good enough.

“The shame is weird – people aren’t supposed to talk about the negatives when you’re having a baby,” she says. “We’ve been taught or indoctrinated that it’s a time of joy, or that it should be for women.

“To realise that it’s not always, these are the things we like to explore.

“We’re not judging anyone for any of their choices that they make, we’re just interested in the type of impact it has.”

Alison Bell Sarah Schiller
Bell, left, and Sarah Scheller are winners at the 2018 AACTA Awards in Sydney. Photo: Getty

Season two of The Letdown picks up soon after the cliffhanger final, which saw a surprise pregnancy for Audrey as she contemplated moving to Adelaide with husband Jeremy (Duncan Fellows).

She is taking tentative steps back into the workforce but faces bigger decisions in her personal life, such as whether to proceed with the pregnancy which might endanger her life.

Helpmann Award winner Bell (Laid, Tomorrow When the War Began)  says people “already” have strong opinions on this storyline.

“But it’s a reality. It’s something we need to talk about and accept as a reality.

“I’m fully prepared to get a lot of pushback but at the same time it doesn’t matter. We can’t control people’s responses and that’s not our job.”

A strong supporting cast which includes Sacha Horler, Celeste Barber, Patrick Brammall and Noni Hazlehurst returns for season two.

There are pants-wettingly funny storylines, and the potential for more pants-wetting as Sophie (Lucy Durack) learns her second pregnancy could cause serious health issues, a storyline that was borrowed from one of Scheller’s friends.

“She was told when pregnant with her second that she would likely prolapse. So she had to make a decision: do I have a caesarean, or should I go natural and run the risk?

“It’s a really big decision. There’s all this pressure, and then the shame – the shame of having a caesarean. She was so ashamed, it was crazy.”

Lucy Durack The Letdown
Lucy Durack (Sophie) feels the small joys of parenthood. Photo: ABC

Bell and Scheller are aware that their path to creating TV comedy is little short of miraculous. After submitting a pilot episode for the ABC’s Comedy Showcase in 2016, a six-part series was commissioned as a co-production with Netflix.

The pilot was the first script they had written (“We were like, ‘huh? We’ve only written half an hour in our lives,” Bell says) and yet they were given creative control over the project.

“We didn’t want it to look like a network show,” Scheller says. “We didn’t want it to be overly lit, to have makeup, or nice hair.

“We wanted clothes that looked worn in, not brand new. We had the control. And (the ABC) supported that aesthetic. They supported a show about women who had no makeup and messy hair.”

The Letdown, ABC, 9pm Wednesday. The entire season is now available on iview.  

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