If it’s got Caitlin Moran’s name on it then I’m more than likely to give it a try, and so it was with high hopes that I settled down to watch Channel 4’s new pilot written by Moran and her sister Caroline. Set on a present-day Wolverhampton council estate, this comedy is a modern day take on the sisters’ arguably dysfunctional upbringing.
At first glance, it could be assumed that Raised by Wolves was merely another angsty interpretation of the woes of being a teenage girl; the pain of unrequited love; the hardships of growing up in a world where no one understands you; the misery of deciding what to wear to the next house party; etc etc. The difference between Raised by Wolves and every other teenage drama out there is that the characters, the writing and the acting are all far too clever for those sorts of trivial matters. The two lead characters, sisters Germaine (Helen Monks) and Aretha (Alex Davies) are based on Caitlin and Caroline, respectively, and beautifully defy the council estate stereotype. Aretha is serious and ambitious. Her mantra appears to be that in order to change the world she’ll have to know everything about it, which contrasts significantly to Germaine who appears to only be concerned with what Supernanny and Kirsty Allsopp would think of the situation in hand.
The two are raised, alongside younger siblings Yoko, Wyatt, Mariah and Cher, by their somewhat unusual mother. Foul-mouthed, unemployed and brash, she holds strong political values and has a penchant for running to Duncan Banatyne’s autobiography on her iPod – it wouldn’t be my first choice of workout soundtrack but I respect her determination.
It would be easy to criticise Raised by Wolves as a depiction of the grimmer part of society – an unemployed mother of six, a granddad who smokes weed, and children who don’t go to school or slice cheese – but actually there’s a strangely wholesome quality about it all. During a hearty meal of bread, cheese and crisps, the children compose their own song, Cheese on Cheese, in a cheerful display of sibling love. There is also their respect for their slightly eccentric granddad and their mother’s insistence that they do chores around the house, which demonstrate that in amongst the chaos of it all, there’s actually some ‘normality’ in this household.
For the feminists amongst us, there are also some comedic nods to the cause, primarily in the names of the characters but also in more subtle ways: a ballsy single mother raising six children, Aretha’s decision to read Plath’s The Bell Jar, the family’s rendition of the Divinyls’ ‘I Touch Myself’, and Germaine’s declaration to the entire street, “I will enjoy my vagina”.
The only slight qualm I have with the programme is that I’m not quite sure where it fits. I’ve compared it here to a teenage drama but it’s funnier and gutsier than that. It has genuine political opinions and incorporates some very astute observational comedy that would appeal to an audience beyond such a confinement. This confusion is further hindered by its billing after Fresh Meat and its 11 o’clock slot, an hour later than a typical comedy billing.
Nevertheless, Channel 4 are missing a trick if they don’t commission a full series. The acting of Monks and Davies alone is enough to warrant more airtime and that, accompanied with the Moran sister’s superb writing, could provide hours of entertainment. The intellectual humour of the pilot makes it well worth a watch over the Christmas period. And if, like me, you’re amused by simpler things, Germaine’s repetition of the word vagina provides sufficient enough chuckles.