I’m a quirky person. I like other quirky people. The Duchess promises to be the kind of quirky comedy/drama that tugs a little on the heartstrings while handing audiences some hard truths. So the question is, can a show be too quirky—even for me?
Katherine is a single mom raising her daughter, running a business, and trying to have a second baby. Her ex., Shep, a former boy band member, may be a constant thorn in her side, but he’s also the father of her daughter and her pick for father of baby number two. Of course, that’s a complicated situation, especially when you add Katherine’s boyfriend and Shep’s bizarre political and social views. Life’s complicated and messy in Netflix’s The Duchess.
There were so many times I wanted to scream “yes” during The Duchess, only to cringe slightly and let out a quiet “oh no” because of the show’s delivery. While the show confronts a number of social issues through Katherine’s quest to have a second baby, its message gets lost in awkward dialogue and delivery. The first episode establishes Katherine as the feminist voice of the show—but that leaves out so many other voices. The result is a very single-minded television show, that offers a narrow view of the issues. Even in the moments that the show tries to be edgier—it doesn’t feel authentic and fresh. There’s a breakdown between what Katherine says and what you see in the show.
The characters are another issue. Despite—or maybe because of—Katherine’s in-your-face approach to life, I enjoyed her character. She says a lot of things I agree with and is unapologetically herself. Similarly, I found her best friend Bev to be a calm voice in the storm of personal drama. The rest of the characters—Shep, Evan, Jane, literally everyone else—range from flat to abhorrent, with little to no development. The result is a deck of poor caricatures of characters.
While the overall execution of the show was lacking, there is something to be said for a show that tackles the struggles of mid-thirties woman trying to have another baby. It’s a subject that’s a bit taboo for film and television—it’s hard to make talk of “geriatric eggs” mainstream. But rather than come off as a poignant discussion of single mothers, female struggles, or modern relationships, the show is an awkward monologue of Katherine Ryan’s personal views.
The one aspect the show I truly enjoyed was the wardrobe design. From Olive’s prim attire to Katherine’s statement pieces, The Duchess is a parade of exquisite wardrobe choices that stand out against the dull backdrop of London life. The wardrobe also offers not-so-subtle clues to Katherine’s progress in the show as she moves from a pink sweatshirt that reads “World’s Smallest Pussy” in episode one to a killer green jumpsuit in the final episode. Unfortunately, I don’t watch shows for their wardrobe design.
The Bottom Line
Come for the female empowerment, stay for the wardrobe design. I wanted The Duchess to be a feminist masterpiece of television. Instead, it felt like a drunken conversation at a NOW conference.