More exhausting than edgy, ‘Duchess’ lacks staying power

Katherine Ryan and Katy Byrne in "The Duchess."
Katherine Ryan and Katy Byrne in "The Duchess."Simon Ridgway/NETFLIX

I watched the first few episodes of the new six-episode Netflix comedy “The Duchess,” and I’m not rushing to finish the season. If ever a show worked overtime to be edgy, raunchy, and transgressive, this is it. I love edgy, raunchy, and transgressive, but not when they’re force-fed, and not when there is no real wit behind them.

Comic Katherine Ryan, who is from Canada but lives in England, created and stars in the semi-autobiographical series. She plays Katherine, the potty-mouthed single mother to a 9-year-old girl named Olive (played by the wonderful Katy Byrne) and the sculptor of pottery shaped like naked female bodies. The only thing the cynical Katherine takes seriously are Olive’s needs, so when Olive wants a sibling, Katherine embarks on a quest for sperm.


Eventually, she tries to get it from her ex, Olive’s father, a former boy-band member whom she despises. Their attempts at getting her pregnant aren’t uncomfortable to watch — they’re just gross and unfunny. The show treats Katherine as a woman taking control of her life, but we can see that she’s just being stupid. She has a devoted boyfriend who’d have a baby with her, but she doesn’t want to be trapped with him. He’s too nice. Meanwhile, she sashays around the city spewing harsh, over-the-top slights at anyone who rubs her the wrong way.

The idea of a brash, bawdy lady making overly polite Brits uncomfortable has potential. And occasionally, Ryan realizes that potential. I did find her funny on occasion, and suspect I might appreciate her and this material more in a stand-up context. But in the form of a series, it’s pushy and exhausting.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.