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Fans of Seinfeld understand the perverse pleasures of spending time with the Costanza family – watching these pugnacious people bicker and yell and jump down each other’s throats, turning what might have been sedate occasions into epic shouting matches. I daresay that the Beare family in Mother and Son – particularly the titular characters, brilliantly played by Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald – could give George and his folks a run for their money. This great Australian sitcom is so devoted to capturing their arguments that watching it feels almost like a form of assault.

Retrospectively viewed through the prism of a proto-Seinfieldian exercise in narrative minutiae, this terrifically spiky and shouty series – which ran for six seasons, between 1984 to 1994, collecting much acclaim and popularity – is in some respects more devoted to matters of inconsequence than the famous “show about nothing”. Created and written by Geoffrey Atherden, and produced and directed by Geoff Portmann, Mother and Son is more pared back than Seinfeld, with a very small cast and a huge portion of it taking place in the house where Maggie (Cracknell) and Arthur (McDonald) live.

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But does Arthur really live there? I recall a moment in the first episode of the fourth season, when the show’s bitterly funny sentiment is neatly articulated. A police officer, sussing out what Arthur is up to after Maggie called the cops on him (for no good reason, of course) asks this lovable, ever-pressed upon character: “You live at home with your mother, do you sir?” To which Arthur responds: “I wouldn’t call it living.”

Ruth Cracknell (centre) as Maggie, Garry MacDonald as Arthur (left) and Henry Szeps as Robert in Mother and Son. Photograph: ABC

The core reason for Arthur’s non-liveable existence is indeed Maggie. She is one hell of a piece of work, which might sound a little mean – unless you’ve spent time with her. A central tension of the show concerns the question of whether, and to what extent, the ageing Maggie is being manipulative or experiencing senility.

This is established from the outset, when Maggie in the first episode walks around with a bowl of milk looking for her cat, only for Arthur to inform her it is dead: “Dad backed the car over it.” Aghast, she breathlessly retorts: “Your father died years ago!” To which Arthur responds: “I know, but before he did he ran over the cat.”




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