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Series / Mother & Son

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Mother & Son is an Australian sitcom that aired on the ABC from 1984 to 1994, created by Geoffrey Atherden. The series revolved around Maggie Beare (Ruth Cracknell), a retired widowed nurse in the early stages of dementia, now being taken care of by her recently divorced son Arthur (Garry McDonald). However, despite being increasingly forgetful, Maggie is lucid enough to manipulate Arthur when she wants to, usually for something devilish that will seriously inconvenience him. The other main characters were Arthur's older brother Robert (Henri Szeps), and Robert's long-suffering wife Liz (Judy Morris).

The plot of he show addresses the problems of ageing and caring for somebody with increasing memory loss, with an often sharp-edged humour which carried with it a tinge of sadness. Maggie and Arthur's relationship was presented with a fascinating complexity - Maggie's cruel attacks on and emotional manipulation of Arthur disguised her deep dependence on and need of him, and Arthur's dutiful love of Maggie was constantly in conflict with his guilty frustration at the huge limitations for his own life which looking after his mother entailed. The performance of Cracknell, a famous stage actress, as Maggie was particularly lauded as one of the finest characterisations on Australian television.

A remimagining of the series began in August 2023, starring Denise Scott as Maggie Boye, Matt Okine as Arthur, Angela Nica Sullen as his older sister Robbie and Virginia Gay as her wife Liz.

This series contains examples of:

  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Maggie acts like this anytime Arthur brings friends over.
  • Ambulance Cut: In "The Promotion", right after Arthur tells Maggie he got a job which would have forced him to move to Canberra.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: After Arthur asks Max why he's showed up at his Christmas party uninvited.
    Max: Well, I was over at the McElroys' party, and it wasn't nice. There was some randy little maniac charging around, desperately propositioning all the women, young and old. No one was safe.
    Arthur: So they threw you out?
    Max: Yeah.
  • Black Comedy: Ranging from the frequent jokes involving Maggie's memory to the scene where Tom dies (right after his brother's funeral) and it appears that Maggie has accidentally poisoned him.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: Arthur attempts to send Maggie to such a home in the first episode. It doesn't seem too bad at first, as Arthur is shown a reasonably comfortable room, but when he drops her off, he's told the room was a "typical" room, which they only had one of at the moment, that Maggie is on the waiting list for a possible future "typical room", and will have to share with another patient in the meantime. Maggie ends up coming home and telling Arthur off for the worst holiday she's ever had.
  • Dead Pet Sketch: The episode "The Budgie", in which Arthur gives Maggie a budgerigar for company (borrowed from a friend), which she accidentally kills with kindness. Maggie manages to get it replaced without Arthur finding out (even bringing the dead budgie to a pet shop as a reference), until it happens to lay an egg, at which point Arthur happens to find the dead budgie in her handbag.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Arthur and Deidre get back together in the series final.
  • Freudian Excuse: After seeing a therapist, Robert convinces himself he has one, blaming his mother's perhaps excessive attentiveness in his childhood for his mistreatment of Liz. It's quite obviously self-serving bullshit, especially considering that in literally the next episode he's claiming that she neglected him as a child after Arthur was born.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": The episode "The Funeral", thanks to Maggie's decision to interrupt the procession to buy a large bag of oranges from a roadside fruit stall, which end up spilling into the grave after the bag rips open.
  • Happily Married: Robert describes his marriage to Liz as such. "Not delirious, but happy. And I don't want anything to upset that." Of course, the fact that he's saying this to his prospective mistress probably qualifies as a subversion, and it certainly isn't mutual.
  • I Am What I Am: A variant, in the context of Arthur being Mistaken for Gay:
    Arthur: It's just what people are! Some people are and some people aren't. But it doesn't matter whether they are or they aren't because they are what they are.
    Maggie: ...What?
    Arthur: I am what I am, and as it happens I'm not. But even if I was, I'd be what I'd be. But I'd still be what I am.
  • Inflationary Dialogue: "The Lamingtons" starts with Arthur learning that Maggie has agreed to make six dozen lamingtons for a cake stall in two days time. It soon transpires that, thanks to various other promises, she's now expected to make eighteen dozen lamingtons. And then she finds out that she has jury duty, which both she and Arthur forgot to get her exempted for. At which point she wonders if she should make lamingtons for the rest of the jury.
  • Jerkass: Robert Beare, an unrepentant serial adulterer who, despite having a well-paying career as a dentist, goes out of his way to be Maggie's favourite while doing as little as possible to take care of her, and is quite gleeful about any possibility of Arthur being cut out of Maggie's inheritance. Liz is only occasionally any better.
  • Jury Duty: Maggie gets called up in "The Lamingtons", thanks to both her and Arthur forgetting to have her exempted ahead of time. And despite Robert's confidence that she won't get selected, she does, with somewhat predictable results.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Robert, in his efforts to hide his affairs and to avoid any responsibility for taking care of Maggie. Maggie herself, though it's not always clear when she's lucid enough to manipulate someone.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Comes up a few times with Arthur.
    Liz: People ask me, "What's wrong with your brother-in-law? Is he gay?"
    Arthur: And what do you say?
    Liz: I say, "I honestly don't know." I say, "I don't think so, but it's hard to tell these days."
    Arthur: Well, thanks!
    Liz: Face facts, Arthur - a man your age, living with his mother, doesn't go out with women, does all the cooking - what else is one to think?
    Arthur: Perhaps one could think that here is a man who, for a change, puts his mother's welfare ahead of trying to prove his own manhood by chasing after everything in a skirt that moves!
    Liz: No, that's far too complicated. They'll just think you're gay.
    Maggie: (walking in from the kitchen) Who's gay?
    Arthur: I am, apparently!
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Zigzagged in the episode where Arthur has a cancer scare:
    Robert: What are the symptoms? Come on! You can tell me, I'm a dentist.
    Arthur: There's nothing wrong with my teeth!
    Robert: Maybe, but I've also had a general health training.
    Arthur: And the thigh bone is connected to the tooth bone?
    Robert: Exactly. Come on.
    Arthur: Just tiredness, upset stomach - that sort of thing.
    Robert: Uh huh. And, er... are you tired all the time?
    Arthur: Exhausted.
    Robert: And the upset stomach - is it like, um, diarrhoea?
    Arthur: Yeah.
    Robert: Uh huh.
    Arthur: What is it?
    Robert: How would I know? I'm a dentist.
  • Rich Bitch: Liz, who's as well-off as Robert and no less callous about Maggie's well-being.
  • Right Behind Me: When Arthur tries to get Robert to take care of Maggie for two weeks, while he takes his Girl of the Week to New Zealand:
    Robert: She'll be alright on her own. She's been saying that all along, but you haven't been listening. All these problems with Mum are in your head. See you later. (walks out the door)
    Arthur: "All in my head"?! (shouting after him) She's half-loony, she's absent minded, and she can't look after herself! (Closes the door, then turns around to see Maggie). Mum! I'm sorry.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Maggie
  • Sibling Rivalry: Between Arthur and Robert.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Robert shows up at Arthur's at the end of "The Trip", after Liz kicks him out and changes the locks. He's still there three weeks later, and when Arthur tells him to Get Out!, he moves into his caravan, which he parks in Arthur's driveway.