Since the first series of Sharon Horgan’s brilliantly subversive Catastrophe ended last month, the British TV schedules have been missing a funny, warm and taboo-breaking comedy. Lots of the show’s fans have been longing for something to fill the gap of that imperfect woman being hilariously frank about the mortifying reality of sex, relationships and adulthood, but it’s been slim pickings.
Enter Raised by Wolves, a Wolverhampton-set sitcom about six homeschooled children, their apocalypse-fearing mother and a grandpa with a high sex drive. Written by star columnist and bestselling author Caitlin Moran and her sister Caroline (Caz), the show centres around kids living a happy but strange life, untouched by the normalising effects of school and other children.
Inspired by the writers’ own childhood, (in real life there were actually eight children in the house but this proved too many to weave into a TV series) the new Channel 4 comedy is full of human eccentricity, periods, sisterhood and masturbation. Moran recently told RadioTimes.com that she’s never seen a taboo she didn’t want to “drag into the light” and Raised by Wolves is a brilliant example of why that’s a good thing.
Germaine, the teenage Caitlin, is a witty, loquacious and overweight teen who has very little self-doubt, while her sister Aretha, based on Caz, is an introverted and cynical book-worm who thinks being a teenager is a frivolous waste of time. Played respectively by Helen Monks and Alexa Davies, Germaine and Aretha are really funny, empathetic characters who most of us will see a bit of our teen selves in.
The Wolf raising the family is Della the straight-talking, tough and slightly bonkers mum, played by Rebekah Staton. One of the best characters (female or male) I’ve seen in a very long time, I would happily watch an entire spin-off series all about Della. Convinced the apocalypse is nigh, she’s named her children after strong women she admires (Germaine, Aretha, Yoko, Mariah and Cher…) and teaches them to forage for food so they’re prepared when the world ends. When in the first episode pre-teen Yoko gets her first period and cries, “I don’t think I want to be a woman, mum!”, Della says, “Nobody does. But men are too chicken shit to handle it.”
Moran said she wanted Della to be unlike mums we usually see on the telly, the “misery-clouds who come and move the plot on” and never get to be the centre of the fun. So the family matriarch is instead a mixture of tough-talking Linda Hamilton from The Terminator… and Clint Eastwood. Moran reveals that after the first rehearsal, Staton said “I’ve just got a feeling that if you play a single mum of six kids like Clint Eastwood coming into town, that’s going to work.”
It definitely does. And the childrens’ “Grampy'”(Philip Jackson) is also far from a doddery past-it old man, with his pot-smoking and tales of sexual adventure. Above all, what the Moran sisters have pulled off is a depiction of an intellectual working-class world that looks happy and nourishing rather than bleak and toxic.
When I saw the Raised by Wolves pilot in 2013, I wasn’t entirely convinced. While Moran’s filthy, joyful sense of humour did come through, I was worried the characters weren’t deep enough to sustain interest for a whole series. And I didn’t laugh as much as I’d hoped. A lot has changed since that pilot; the characters are complex, there’s a great story and there are plenty of genuinely hilarious moments. It’s now the sitcom I always hoped Moran would make.