There’s an expression that only a child mortified by their parents can wear. Shock, horror, embarrassment, surprise and dismay all combine, but so does love too. It’s a look that everyone has worn more than once in their lives, and that viewers of The Family Law should know well. As his mum Jenny (Fiona Choi) dotes on him in her unique way, that look is usually plastered across the face of 14-year-old Benjamin Law (Trystan Go).
Ben appreciates his mother more than most might in his situation — she’s caring, but frequently candid to the point of uttering everything that pops into his head — and he should. With her fearless attitude when it comes to supporting, defending and sharing with her family, nothing gets in Jenny’s way. Indeed, combine her honesty, her devoted heart and her no-nonsense approach, and she becomes TV’s best mum in an equally amusing, earnest and realistic way.
When the show returns for its second season, Jenny is her usual force-to-be-reckoned-with as far as her kids are concerned, though she can’t help struggling with post-divorce life. Her ex-husband Danny (Anthony Brandon Wong) is enjoying success with a new apartment and a new grocery store, and it’s clearly hard for her to watch him start anew while she stays in their old chaotic home; however, her own worries never get in the way of her role as a mother.
With the first episode set at the beginning of the new school year, Ben’s attempts to become middle school captain take centre stage. Being the enthusiastic but neurotic teenager that he is, it’s a tense and fraught time for him, particularly with the kindly neighbour he loves to hate, Klaus (Takaya Honda), his primary opponent. Enter Jenny. She knows just what to do, and when, even if Ben doesn’t always immediately respond with gratitude. That recognisable stunned but loving look washes across his face, perhaps receiving its strongest outing in the series to date, when she takes to the stage to save him in an awkward moment.
In front of an audience of far-from-eager school students, she’s fierce in her support of Ben, completely disregarding how it might make her look. She jumps to his help in a situation where he’d never ask, and she offers just what he needs, even if he doesn’t necessarily realise it.
It’s a triumphant scene, but it’s also the culmination of the entire episode’s showcase of just how much Jenny loves her kids. While her own stresses are evident, she soldiers on, ensuring that Ben doesn’t give up when he wants to, and finding a way to put her mothering skills to best use — including baking hilarious fortune cookies, which Ben is concerned about, but she rightly reassures him will work because “Australians love racism”.
Here’s a woman with her own troubles doing everything that she can to secure the best for her son, and never sacrificing who she is in the process. While television has provided a vast array of visions of motherhood since it started beaming images into our living rooms, many the picture of perfect domesticity, there’s a reason that Jenny Law stands out: with her devotion to her children beyond scrutiny, she couldn’t be more authentic in the way that she tackles life.
Initially, the first season of The Family Law painted this picture in big, eager strokes. In fact, the series’ way of introducing viewers to the Law family’s distinctive brand of chaos was through Jenny’s over-sharing about the pain of childbirth during Ben’s birthday; “stab stab stab right into mummy’s vi vi” was her way of describing it. But, as each episode passed, and as Jenny kept supplying the best and most amusing lines, it filled in the details, showing that it’s not just the more pronounced character traits but the underlying subtleties that make her such a great mum.
Jenny jumping up to save Ben in his time of need — and shower him with praise in public — has a precedent. When Danny became flustered making a speech during their elder son Andrew’s (George Zhao) 18th birthday, she’s quick to come to his aid. Her actions then were less about helping her children, and more about making sure everyone knew just what they meant to her, but they came from the same place. For Jenny, conveying her love when it’s needed, regardless of the reaction, the response, or the way she is received, is what being a mother is all about.
The Family Law provides many more examples; however, Jenny’s best moment might just be her most vulnerable. It’s Christmas day, she’s newly separated from Danny, and Ben has put every last effort into making sure the festivities go smoothly. Alas, finding out that the family’s oldest daughter Candy (Shuang Hu) is engaged to the boyfriend no one knows about dampens proceedings, as does undercooked poultry. Upset and ill, Jenny reclines on the couch when Ben apologises that things didn’t turn out as planned. She’s kind, thankful, reassuring and appreciative, even though she’s feeling physically and emotionally at her worst — and that’s perhaps one of the most endearing images of motherhood committed to television.
The Family Law airs Thursday nights on SBS at 8:350pm. You can catch up with every episode of the show streaming now on SBS On Demand: