Why this show is the funniest thing on TV

What was it Lou Reed said about having your first child? "It's the beginning of a great adventure." Then again, he did put those words in the mouth of the wife in his 1989 song. From the father-to-be's less-certain perspective, the imminent birth of a first child was cause for a tug of war between optimism and outright panic.

In The Letdown (ABC, Wednesdays 9.35pm), the anticipation phase is well and truly over. Parenthood is upon us. The baby is real. And the reality is, like it says on the tin, rather a letdown.

Co-created by star Alison Bell, who plays new mother Audrey, and Sarah Scheller, The Letdown may just be the funniest, and most truthful, thing on TV right now. This is comedy anchored thoroughly in the real-world experience of first-time parenting. You don't need a birth canal or breasts to identify with it, though the sense that the show is speaking to, for and about you will be that much greater if you do. Regardless of gender or parental status, there's so much here that rings true.

PB (pre-birth) Audrey worked in PR, and when we first meet her she's trying desperately to put a positive spin on her experience of motherhood. But the sleepless nights, leaky breasts, social isolation and sheer bloody tedium are making it hard. Husband Jeremy (Duncan Fellows) makes all the right noises but he's hardly around. Her mother (Sarah Peirse) is too self-obsessed to be of any use, and his parents (Chris Haywood, Valerie Bader) mean well but make her feel terrible.

Thank God for mothers' group. Sorry, parents' group: there's a stay-at-home dad (Leon Ford) there too. Whatever you call it, this is the one place a floundering parent might find support and guidance, as well as the odd bit of competition and judgement.

Scheller was already a mother when she and Bell wrote the pilot, which was one of six programs that got a try-out as part of the Comedy Showcase scheme on ABC in 2016. Bell became a mother after the pilot aired. It's clear that both have drawn deeply from their own experiences.

Bell's Audrey is a mess, but the sort of mess most of us will recognise. She's trying to get her old life back - sneaking out to dinner with friends, her baby tucked inside her jacket - while gradually coming to the realisation it's just not going to happen. As baby brain sets in, the career she used to have sails further and further away. In the brief moments when the baby is asleep and she is not, she and Jeremy have a stab at rekindling their sex life. But getting their schedules and their bodies in sync is much easier said than done.

It's all so very familiar, but it's far enough in my past that I can laugh about it now. For newer parents, it's likely to play as a form of therapy. For those yet to take that leap but considering doing so, The Letdown might just be the ultimate form of contraception.

Among the many virtues of this show is the supporting cast, a line-up of uncommon depth and talent. Stand-outs include Leah Vandenberg as single mother Martha, determined to fend off the attentions of her sperm donor but tempted by his food; Lucy Durack as the social media-obsessed Sophie, whose Instagram-filtered life looks way better than the incontinent reality; and Patrick Brammall as a petty drug dealer, as adept at dispensing breastfeeding advice as small baggies of coke.

My favourite, though, is Noni Hazlehurst as the maternal health nurse Ambrose; in her moments of steely-faced I've-seen-it-all-before tough love, she takes a scorched Earth approach to decades of carefully curated Play School-sanctioned cuddliness, and it's a joy to behold.

If you haven't yet caught The Letdown, make sure you do. You won't be. Let down, that is.

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This story Why this show is the funniest thing on TV first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.