The grown-up — which is to say, the real — star of the show is Michelle de Swarte, a British model, comedian and reality-TV performer (“I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Now!”). She plays Natasha, 38, whom we first see having a snit when a friend’s baby interferes with her poker-night rituals. Natasha has issues with babies, which flow in part from her desire to live her life as she chooses and in part, we learn, from her own relationship to her mother. One of the show’s many jokes-in-passing is that the strong-willed and latently heroic Natasha is just as immature as the baby she finds herself caring for.
That baby literally falls out of the sky and into Natasha’s arms, just after one adult’s death and just before the deaths of several more, the central joke being that people who come in contact with the unnamed and unbearably cute infant tend to meet gruesome ends — except for Natasha, the one who doesn’t want him but can’t seem to get rid of him. When she tells friends and family members that the baby isn’t hers, they ignore her; the baby can apparently convince them that he’s always been around.
As Natasha seeks to unburden herself, trying first to leave the baby at a police station and, when that doesn’t work, moving on to more devious and violent solutions, the show consistently scores points off the realities and truisms of motherhood. Even though Natasha doesn’t want the baby, he immediately dominates her life and causes her to alienate her friends in exactly the ways they alienated her. That he also appears to be a serial killer — an actual monster — is just one tiny step further. A mysterious woman who has been tracking the baby’s bloody progress tells Natasha: “He’ll bulldoze your life, destroy your relationships, and when he’s got you completely to himself, he’ll destroy you. It’s what he does.” Sounds right.
In addition to being a dark, satirical comedy, “The Baby” is, as the genre and the needs of episodic drama demand, a mystery as well. That side of the show, with Natasha looking into the life of the woman who was responsible for the baby just before her, is amusing in an off-handed way. But in another move typical of the genre — think of it as “Get Out” syndrome — the show takes an unfortunate turn at a certain point, when it feels the need to take the themes it has been adroitly finessing and make them explicit and grindingly literal. This involves some long flashbacks to less enlightened times, and it can be seen as an expansion of the show’s perspective into a more serious story about women’s control of their bodies. But it works against everything that has made the show engaging.
I won’t spoil when the changes set in, though I should mention that HBO made six of the eight episodes available for review. So things may turn around. And regardless, there’s pleasure in de Swarte’s portrayal of the dogged, take-no-prisoners Natasha and in the sweetly addled performance of the newcomer Amber Grappy as Natasha’s younger sister. And there’s the baby. No matter what else is happening, he kills.