UK romcom Smothered tackles one of the trickiest relationship barriers: children

We’re all drowning in content—so it’s time to highlight the best. In her column, published every Friday, critic Clarisse Loughrey recommends a new show to watch. This week: British rom-com Smothered.

Romantic comedies find the most improbable ways to keep couples apart. Conversations, eavesdropped out of context, lead to stubborn misunderstandings. Sultry Jolene-types are introduced purely to tempt men away from their one, true love. Someone, inevitably, turns out to be an undercover spy. Rarely does the genre ever cross the line into the mundane, but soul-wrecking ways that love can become impossible, whether by international borders, financial pressures, or outside obligations. A new Sky comedy, Smothered, sets out, refreshingly, to tackle one of the trickiest relationship barriers you can ever encounter: children, specifically the having and not having them.

Sammy (Danielle Vitalis) has tired of the ways of youth. “I just want a bit of f***ing romance, you know?” she bemoans, to no one in particular, in the middle of a sex party. Perhaps that explains why she’s so attracted to the pleasantly banal Tom (Tom Pointing), who’s in his thirties, but has the energy of someone “whose bones click”, according to his younger, trendier coworkers.

At first, Sammy and Tom’s flirtations have the giddy, rose-tinted quality of a Richard Curtis film. Love Actually, and Andrew Lincoln’s famous/infamous (delete as appropriate) doorstep declaration, even becomes a heated point of discussion. But, then, Sammy finds out about Tom’s daughter, Ellie, and their romance grinds to a screeching halt.

Throughout six episodes, and a not-infrequent series of montages, show creator Monica Heisey (a writer on Schitt’s Creek) shows how the parental divide can make two individuals feel as if they inhabit entirely different worlds. He’s deep in his iCal, trying to find a sliver of free time wedged in between after-school activities; she’s high on drugs, forehead slicked with sweat in the club. He’s welcomed into another father’s “zen den” to play some Mario Kart and finds the place dripping in misery, a football helmet filled with popcorn languishing on the coffee table. Sammy babysits. Afterwards, she complains that kids are dull, since “it’s the same four stories over and over”.

Smothered, admittedly, has its moments of romcom contrivance. Sammy’s reaction to meeting Tom’s ex, and the mother of his child, reaches a level of unreasonable jealousy, and the show seems to position her behaviour as equal to Tom’s defensiveness over their co-parenting arrangement. But it’s able, too, to delve into the deepest and most uncomfortable parts of these dynamics: how the child has to cope with a new presence in their life, and how that shapes their relationship with their birth parents. “I didn’t realise he’d be so obsessed with his kid,” Sammy says, at one point. Someone else has to point out what an absurd sentence that is.

Heisey has also ensured that a sense of nuance is sustained across the show’s supporting characters, who represent a mix of generations and all seem to perceive of each other with complete and utter confusion. Your thirties, depending on who you ask, make you a little, tender baby or a walking corpse. Smothered embraces both perspectives.

One of the show’s funniest characters is Sammy’s boss (Lisa Hammond), an interior designer behind the opening of a new restaurant spearheaded by Gillian (Aisling Bea), whose crisis management style somehow exudes both confidence and hysteria. She’s meant to be, to Sammy, the image of aspirational success, and yet her relationship with her husband is primarily fuelled by horniness and chaos. Love is messy at any age, Smothered reminds us—and it’s certainly not something that can be fixed by turning up on someone’s doorstep unannounced with a bunch of big, white placards.