Finally, four years after Channel 4’s superbly crude The Inbetweeners ended (in its superior TV form, anyway), British teenagers have another frank, intelligent and genuinely funny comedy to get excited about.
Following hot on the heels of Sharon Horgan’s charmingly subversive Catastrophe, Raised by Wolves is a similarly filthy, fearless, taboo-rattling sitcom about flawed women talking openly, and hilariously, about their experiences in sex, love and life in general.
Written by TV critic turned best-selling author Caitlin Moran and her sister Caroline (Caz), the series is a loose autobiographical account of their youth spent on a Wolverhampton council estate with their six siblings (reduced to three here for the sake of narrative coherency) and unconventional mother.
Our heroines, Germaine and Aretha, are based on the writers’ teenage selves. Whimsical, noisy Germaine is the teenage Caitlin, eccentrically dressed in a tartan dressing gown and untamed beehive like a charity shop Amy Winehouse and unapologetically horny for one of the local chavs. Her sister, Aretha, based on Caz, on the other hand, is an introverted and dead-pan bookworm who appears to have abandoned her adolescence altogether and skipped straight into life as a middle-aged grump.
They are a classic ‘clashing personalities’ double act, played enthusiastically by Helen Monks and Alexa Davies respectively, but last night’s opening episode didn’t give this dynamic quite enough time to really take off, with the plot focused more on the entire family’s attempts to forage for food in preparation for the impending apocalypse their mother is certain will soon be upon them.
What’s most exciting about this series is how well it subverts our expectations of a typical teen-centric show. Neither Germaine nor Aretha are what TV world would consider to be perfect: they’re average-looking misfits who exist on the fringes of society due to their unusual upbringing. But rather than their perceived imperfections becoming the issue or a source of shame, Germaine and Aretha are shown to be refreshingly happy, confident and comfortable in who they are as people. And that should make us all feel at least a little bit better about ourselves.
Likewise, the show’s depiction of its council estate setting is not, as you might expect, one of a grim and horizonless wasteland, but one of a bright, nurturing environment populated with intelligent working class people who like to quote George Orwell and spin gloriously witty one-liners like, “I’ve tumesced below the wrist. I’ve got a hand on!”
Monks and Davies are both empathetic and entertaining performers, as is Philip Jackson as their freshly-aroused Grampy, but Rebekah Staton’s straight-talking matriarch, Della, is the breakout character. Strong-willed, acerbic, and loveably unconventional, she inevitably gets all the best lines: “Take it from me, nothing makes an unwanted swelling disappear faster than the sight of an axe.” I’m not sure I want to find out how she came to acquire that nugget of information.
Jokes like this come thick and fast in a Moran-esque whirlwind of superbly composed one-liners that are delivered with such alacrity as to almost demand repeat viewing, just to ensure you fully catch each and every one. Not that any further encouragement is needed; Raised by Wolves is such a bold, clever and proudly unusual depiction of a modern dysfunctional family made up of complex characters, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible in their company.
Click here to watch Raised by Wolves – Hand Jam on 4oD