Mention any American remake of a British television show, and there will immediately be people rushing to tell you that TV is just plain better across the pond. They cite the abbreviated length of both seasons and series, the laxer restrictions on language and other explicit content, and just the overall quality of the BBC and other networks’ output. Although the question of UK vs. US television is still very much up for the debate, it’s indisputably true that Britain’s teen-centric shows tend to be a lot racier and more honest than their American counterparts — and Caitlin Moran’s Raised by Wolves is a perfect example.
If you’ve read Moran’s work, particularly her books How to Be a Woman and How to Build a Girl, then this should come as no surprise. Moran is known for her outspoken, full-throttle sort-of manifestos on feminism and womanhood. She is under the (correct) impression that nothing about being a woman should be too embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about, and that virtually everything can be discussed through humor. This is all at play in Raised by Wolves, a new series on Channel 4 (well, in true British-TV fashion, the pilot aired in 2013 and is available to view on YouTube, but the series will premiere on Monday).
The easiest comparison to make is to Channel 4’s other truthful and poignant depiction of those awkward teenage years: My Mad Fat Diary — every day that show is unavailable (legally) in America is a further disappointment, though I regularly bless the lack of a shoddy remake from MTV. Both series are about wonderfully strange, open, and sexually curious British teenagers. Both are about unconventional families and painfully unrequited crushes. Both occasionally employ cringe-worthy humor (that works!). Both, it should be noted, have killer soundtracks. And both should be required viewing for adolescent girls in America.
Raised by Wolves is co-written by sisters Caitlin and Caroline Moran and loosely based on their upbringing, where there were eight Moran children living and being homeschooled in a three-bedroom council house (a form of public housing) in Wolverhampton, England. In the series, the children are all left to their own devices when it comes to education: Germaine (presumably a fictionalized Caitlin) prefers to plant herself in front of the television all day, making sure that her younger siblings put on “trauma-prevention hoods” when she watches decapitation-filled horror movies while Aretha (presumably Caroline) focuses more on the literary, reading Crow by Ted Hughes and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. The children are smart but not precocious, alternating between displaying their intelligence and behaving very much like teens. Germaine effortlessly moves from accusations of totalitarian regime to jokes about wanting a bread maker in her bedroom just so she can call it the “breadroom.”
Germaine is obsessed with her own sexuality, like most adolescents, but she’s refreshingly unafraid and unashamed to be open about it. Caitlin Moran describes Germaine as a “gobby, vaginally focused, horny 16-year-old extrovert.” She laments that she feels like there’s a gay man inside of her — or, more accurately, “two gay men having sex together” and yells, “I will enjoy my vagina, and I won’t be the only one!” Germaine is, yes, a horny teen girl, but Raised by Wolves doesn’t make her the butt of the joke or pass any judgement, nor is any of this played solely for crudeness. Instead, it’s a refreshing depiction of teen sexuality and specifically — more importantly — of female teen sexuality.
It’s commonplace to see teen boys on television joke about masturbation, their desires to get laid, and all things sex (and not just teens; a recent episode of Fresh Off the Boat centered on 11-year-old Eddie trying to track down porn to watch with his friends.) Teen girls are rarely allowed to speak so openly. There are surely exceptions, like Degrassi (another import, from Canada), though often teen girls’ sexplorations are depicted in a negative light. When we see young women being more brazen about sex, they’re usually 20-somethings like the characters in Girls and Broad City. These women are already sexually active and aware; though they experiment, they’re no longer teens trying to figure out the basics.
But Raised by Wolves knows exactly where to find this humor: in Germaine’s repeated use of the word “vagina” because Aretha hates it, the look of horror on another younger sister’s face when Germaine gets too detailed about her period, the children all packed into the backseat of a car, loudly singing the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself.” The series also jokes about the insecurity and loneliness of adolescence; Germaine believes that her best feature are her eyes — but they only “make up 0.0.2% of her total body mass — and gets “reassurance” about her looks from her grandfather, who compares her to Mama Cass. (Later, Germane gets an explanation: Mama Cass, her mother says, was a “big, fat singer who died.”) Germaine also has an unrequited crush on an obnoxious boy at school, and is so obsessed with him that she keeps a soda can he drank out of it as a sad souvenir.
The comedy of Raised by Wolves is a direct response to the quiet, shame, and self-loathing that surrounds teenage girls and their sexuality. Because TV has rarely seen adolescent girls talk about everything from masturbation to menstruation, Raised by Wolves succeeds merely by existing. Yet it’s also a fun (and funny) show on its own merits, with skilled writing and a knack for quick and easy characterization through well-crafted jokes. It’s sure to be a hit on Channel 4, so now we just have to hope it somehow makes its way to America, which might need it even more than Britain.