As an enormously enthusiastic fan of comedian, journalist, novelist, and twitterer Caitlin Moran, I had a feeling that Channel 4’s new sitcom Raised by Wolves would be right up my street. It turns out, I was correct. With lines such as: ‘knickers are basically just a drip-tray for your undercarriage’ running throughout the show, I was hooked, and watched all five episodes back-to-back online.
Written by Caitlin and her sister Caroline, the show takes its roots from the pair’s quirky upbringing in a council house in Wolverhampton, where they were homeschooled alongside six other siblings. Caitlin freely admits that their homeschooling consisted of mainly ‘eating lumps of cheese on a fork’ and watching sitcoms all day long, as well as regular trips to Wolverhampton’s public library. Therefore, it is easy to see that the pair’s clear-cut knowledge of this type of comedy was obviously born in their remarkably free upbringing in which, Caitlin claims, sitcoms were their ‘world’.
The show, apart from displaying refreshing writing and acting, is also rather uplifting in its attempt to offer an alternative version of council-house living. The family of eight (single mother Della, her father Grampy, and six kids, including Germaine and Aretha, modelled on the Moran sisters themselves, Yoko, and the three ‘babbies’) break the stereotypical working class mould in many ways. Bookish and intellectual, yet largely unable to socialise, the two eldest daughters, Germaine and Aretha (Helen Monks and Alexa Davies) have a typical sibling relationship that is closely based on Caitlin and Caroline’s childhood. But despite Caitlin’s assertion that the Moran’s were the ‘unpleasant people’ of their neighbourhood, it is the quirky girls who are terrorised by others who mark them out as freaks. When circled by a group of yobbish lads shouting ‘pikey on a bikey’, totally inept cyclist Germaine proclaims that ‘pikey is a pejorative term’. Although this does nothing to stop the chanting youths around her, their leader being the object of her affections. The cool-headed Aretha’s answer to the problem is simply, ‘change gear, you noob’.
Critics may argue that it is within the writing itself that the show loses touch with reality, as the many one liners given to the teenagers are, at times, ingeniously funny and acutely intelligent. How many teenagers, for instance, do you hear using the term ‘pejorative’ on a daily basis? However, since one of Caitlin’s favourite places to visit as a child was Wolverhampton’s public library, I can easily buy into this fictionalised version of her. It is fair to say that most teenagers nowadays, although attending school, do not make daily trips to libraries, and certainly do not read books on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.
Next we come to Della, played by Rebekah Staton. A feisty matriarch who simply has to make do with the few resources the family have. Such is Della’s distaste for paying for parking in her own town, that the girls have precisely half an hour to spend in the shops looking for underwear, before Della hot-foots it back to the car to avoid a fine. Staton plays the role in a wonderfully formidable way, delivering her lines as if she is one full of knowledge, drawing from a wealth of life experiences. When Yoko complains, after starting her period, about not wanting to become a women, Della’s response is that the men are too ‘chicken-shit scared’ to do it, and so the women must step up. And step up she does. When there is no food in the house, all six siblings are hauled down to a local nature reserve to hunt for food, and when a local cat threatens her newly-planted vegetable patch, Della is ready, hose in hand like a trained assassin, to protect her turf at any cost.
Reviewers have branded the show similar to Manchester’s Shameless, and the total opposite of Benefits Street – Channel 4’s documentary series that has taken much criticism for its demonisation of the working classes. It’s easy to see the messages that the Morans are trying to put across. Della’s family are not rinsing the state, instead they are resourceful, doing what they can to get by. Yet, sadly, their demonisation lies in their otherness. As cousin Cathy pragmatically informs Germaine, ‘if you don’t join in, you pay the price’.
We must also remember that what sets Raised by Wolves apart from Shameless and other sitcoms of recent years is, in the words of Della, it’s midland location. In the first episode she declares the following:
‘We’re not southern twats, and we’re not northern twats…we are Midland’s twats.’
The next episode of Raised by Wolves will be aired Monday 20th, C4, 10pm.