Saturday, 18 April 2015

RAISED BY WOLVES review. Mondays, Channel 4, 10pm


Bowie, chips, Watership Down, peach fragrance, Daleks and the sexing up of the Question Time theme. It can only be smart, left-of-field new sitcom Raised by Wolves.

"It's like living with Nick Cave." (Image: C4)

Channel 4 has got a great track record with comedy shows, Toast of London, Black Books and Father Ted among them, but, for me, Raised by Wolves is a cut above. The premise isn’t as immediately engaging as those others – ‘single mum brings up children on a council estate in Wolverhampton with help/interference from their granddad’ – but the quality, originality and intelligence of the new series’ wit sparkles and delights.

It’s interesting that the series, written by columnist Caitlin Moran and her sister Caroline, and apparently based on their unconventional upbringing, should appear at the same time as documentaries like Benefits Street and Skint (and the third series of the latter started this week, immediately before Raised by Wolves). Those series, even though they’re on Channel 4, tend to portray those struggling on the breadline as malingerers and scroungers, in effect a bunch of modern Fagins in hoodies. The Morans’ approach is exactly the opposite, celebrating outsiders and the disenfranchised, and their unique selling point is that you can be bright and working class.   

If you can imagine such a thing, Raised by Wolves is Shameless written by Oscar Wilde. Every character, from granite-hard, Cameron-hating mum Della Garry (the brilliant Rebekah Staton, whose time has surely come), via mouthy Goth Germaine (Lene Lovich-alike Helen Monks) and nervous geek Yoko (Molly Risker), to the girls’ ‘Grampy’, Good Food-obsessed, spliff-mellow Mannie (the perfectly cast Philip Jackson), speak with the same level of wry, sardonic and intellectual wit, creating an exclusive small world. Outside Della’s home-schooled family of individuals, the ‘normal’, emotionally sterile landscape of suburbia is a place to be feared, as in her only-glimpsed mum’s ‘chintz snake pit’ of a house, where ‘what [she] lacked in unconditional love, she made up for with peach fragrance.’       

Not a lot happens in Raised by Wolves – this week, ‘shit nan’ threw Grampy out for being depressed because his mum Joanna had died, so he went to live with Della and co. – but what makes it sing is the sheer cleverness of the dialogue. The strike-rate of smart one-liners really is remarkable. Among many, my favourites this week were:

Della: I’m not having Nike market themselves by the graveside.

Yoko: I used to be scared of the Daleks until grandma told me to call them ‘the Dereks’.

Della: Germaine, you could have put on something less existential than Watership Down!       


Mannie: I like a strong woman on an imperishable format.

Somehow, the Wolverhampton accent makes the dialogue even funnier.

Having Grampy wander around the estate in a depressed frame of mind that he likens to ‘Bowie in Berlin’ is funny because of the association of cardigan with counter culture, but it also made me stop and think. Mannie was a young dude in he 1970s, yet in 2015 here he is as a lovable, if shabby, grandfather delighted to discover in his wallet an ‘emergency fiver’ behind a picture of his daughter and grandchildren, so he can buy some chips and cheer himself up. As someone who grew up at roughly the same time, the ’70s really doesn’t feel that long ago, but this week’s episode reminded me that it is getting on for fifty years. ‘Time takes a cigarette/Puts it in your mouth…’

Before I wander off into the maudlin foothills (as Germaine might say), it’s worth pointing out that the heartening thing about Raised by Wolves is that although Della’s brood might bicker and fall out a lot, when it counts they’re always there for and stick up for each other, an uplifting message in these austere times. The love the actors have for the material also lights up the television, particularly when Germaine discovers an unconventional benefit of the Question Time theme.         

From a hesitant start in the pilot, Raised by Wolves has flowered into something genuinely eccentric, warm and funny. I'd love to see more of Della giving Cameron – or whoever it turns out to be on May 7 – the metaphorical finger.  

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