Weekly coverage of HBO and SKY’s limited series co-production, The Baby begins with a discussion of the horror comedy’s first episode “The Arrival.”
There’s a line early in “The Arrival” (written by co-creators Siân Robins-Grace and Lucy Gaymer) that confirms the humour audiences can expect from the series. When Natasha (a wonderfully exasperated Michelle de Swarte) learns that her friend Rita (Isy Suttie) is expecting, Natasha asks how far along Rita is. The answer: “Three months.” To which Natasha quips “well it’s not too late then, is it?”
This kind of dark comedy is The Baby’s bread and butter, which also expertly weaves in moments of horror amidst utter ridiculousness. In the first episode, no less than four people die unexpected: Lydia (Sophie Reid) falls off a cliff in the opening sequence, police officers Len (Charlie Wernham) and Tim (Sam Bond) are killed when a boulder falls on their cruiser and a shelf falls on the head of kindly convenience store employee Lester (Leslie Davidoff). In another world, this kind of blood shed would act as a soft reboot of the Final Destination franchise wherein death follows Tasha around in the form of an adorable tyke (played by twins Albie Pascal Hills & Arthur Levi Hills).
What Robins-Grace and Gaymer have crafted instead is a divine horror comedy about a woman who does not want children who suddenly finds herself responsible for a demon baby. “The Arrival” lays the groundwork for Tasha’s ambivalence for motherhood in the opening scene with friends Rita and Mags (Shvorne Marks), but thanks to the show’s brisk 30 minute runtime, it doesn’t belabour (heh) the point. Presumably this will be a recurring element of the series as it progresses, but “The Arrival” moves quickly, following Natasha to Mrs. Eaves (Amira Ghazalla)’s country rental so that she’s in position to catch the titular baby when it falls off a cliff (as seen in the series’ cold open).
Normally in media res openings don’t work because all they do is build false suspense (the audience already knows what’s going to happen). It works here, however, because it’s not clear when we’re introduced to Natasha that the show has flashed back in time. It’s not until Lydia’s body splatters our protagonist in blood that it’s clear what’s happening, and the sight of Tasha catching a falling baby in her hands – the literal last thing she wants – is delightful.
The rest of the episode verges on a comedy of errors as Natasha repeatedly does the right thing: she calls the police and – when that doesn’t work – she drops the baby off at a police station. Admittedly climbing out of the convenience store bathroom window to abandon the baby with Lester is a low point, but it is highly entertaining to see a grown woman sneaking about in an effort to avoid an adorably cute baby.
While the comedy is the priority, the horror is extremely well-integrated. Even though the deaths are macabre, they’re so ridiculous that they ultimately become funny. The sole moment of true terror is when the baby bites Natasha’s breast, but this is – naturally – revealed to be a dream sequence.
The “surprise” beat at episode’s end, when the baby and its accompanying laundry bin arrive back on Natasha’s doorstep, is hardly surprising, but it is an effective capper on a sprightly, energetic pilot. The groundwork has been laid, so all that remains to be seen is how Natasha will react now that motherhood has effectively been forced on her. If the remainder of this eight episode limited series is as entertaining and well-constructed as “The Arrival,” then we’re in for a treat.
We’ll find out next week with episode two, “The Seduction!”
The Baby airs Sundays on HBO.