Monthly Archives: December 2013

Picture: Channel 4

Raised by Wolves, Channel 4 – read it on Varsity here.

Caitlin Moran clearly knows her stuff when it comes to television: her TV reviews for The Times were essential Saturday morning reading. So how did she and her sister, Caroline, fare when it came to her first foray onto the other side of the fourth wall?

Raised By Wolves is, according to Moran, a modern-day reimagining of her upbringing on a Wolverhampton council estate. At the start of the episode, Pixie Lott’s ‘Boys and Girls’ plays whilst a crowd of school-uniformed teenagers traipse homeward. It could be the beginning of Waterloo Road, until the camera follows a Fruit Shoot bottle hurled by a boy over a hedge and into the scruffy front garden of our home-schooled protagonists. Germaine (based on Caitlin) is a gothic, loud-mouthed teenager, who throughout the episode (a pilot for Channel 4) muses on a range of topics from cheese to vaginas whilst her sister, the studious Aretha (inspired by Caroline), sighs and rolls her eyes in the background and goes back to reading Ted Hughes.

Whilst many viewers took advantage of the programme’s title to claim they were ‘howling with laughter’ throughout, I found Raised By Wolves more intriguing than outright hilarious – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly an underexplored concept – as noted by Moran, intellectual working class families don’t generally get a lot of airtime – so this aspect is certainly welcome. The script is sharp, stuffed full of cultural references, and often very witty. (‘Sisterly trust,’ says Germaine to Aretha, trying to avoid being locked in the garden shed. ‘No – bigger than that. Trusthouse Forte. The National Trust.’  At one point, their grandfather references ‘AA Gill’s Winnie the Pooh’.) Still, it didn’t raise as many laughs as might have been expected.

Helen Monks is entertaining as Germaine, but her delivery sometimes feels a little too scripted and not entirely spontaneous. Alexa Davies was convincing as Aretha, although we learnt little about the character aside from her views on the importance of education. Most entertaining was Della (Rebekah Staton), Germaine and Aretha’s mum, whose idea of good parenting is smoking out of the window. She spent a lot of the episode predicting the breakdown of society, and employing her curse of choice – ‘fucking David Cameron’ – with gusto.

So whilst I wasn’t laughing all the way through, I did enjoy Raised By Wolves, and I’d be prepared to give it another chance if Channel 4 goes ahead and commissions a full series. Besides, TV needs more frank jokes about vaginas. And if anyone can provide that, it’s Moran.

Picture: Telegraph

Downton Abbey Christmas Special, ITV1

“Dear Matthew. I do miss him,” lamented Edith at the opening of this two-hour long slog of a Christmas special. Just in case we were having too nice a Christmas day, she was reminding us that, as confirmed last year, Downton doesn’t have to follow the same goodwill-to-all-men-including-slightly-sappy-characters theme that usually abounds in the festive season. Except this episode did exactly that. I’m trying to think of something that actually happened to move the plot forward, but lately Downton seems to have become a series of conversations between characters, rather than an actual drama. At the beginning of the episode, Mary had three suitors. Bates was a suspected murderer. Rose was enthusiastic and mildly irritating. Thomas was evil. The Americans were coming. At the end of the episode Mary still had three suitors. Bates was a confirmed murderer. Rose was enthusiastic and mildly irritating and mates with the Prince of Wales. Thomas was still evil. The Americans left. No one died. The end.

Last year we found ourselves in the Highlands, but this year we had to make do with London, presumably due to the disruption to train services caused by the floods. That, and Rose’s presentation into society, which brought most characters down south. And when I say most characters, I mean basically everyone. Even Molesley. I may be wrong, but I would’ve though someone would stay behind to mind the Abbey while the Crawleys were away. Y’know, water the plants, collect the post, feed the cat, that sort of thing. And perhaps (after Branson and Miss Bunting) make sure no one else was going upstairs to ‘enjoy the view down into the hall’ (nudge nudge, wink wink). But nope, apparently the London housekeeper’s being indisposed meant that the whole of Downton suddenly had to go down to London too. “Are you excited?” said Enthusiastic American Valet to Daisy on arrival. “I’m never excited,” replied Daisy, thus summing up every viewer’s reaction to this episode so far.

So what were the main things that happened in this episode in which nothing much happened at all? Edith moped around a lot, musing melancholically in a manner similar to Eeyore. Eeydith had good reason to be sad: her baby, the daughter of missing-and-probably-killed-by-Brownshirts editor, Michael Gregson, was living in Switzerland with adoptive parents, and she’d probably never see her again. For something she’s not meant to talk about, she seems to spend a lot of time talking about it. “I know we never talk about the baby,” said Violet, starting yet another conversation about the baby, “but I realise it must be on your mind constantly.” It might help if people stopped talking about it.

Not putting your baby up for adoption aside, the other moral of this episode seemed to be ‘don’t leave important and potentially incriminating articles in your pockets’. There was a charity sale for Russian refugees, and being the absolute pillar of society that he is, Bates offered up an old overcoat. Mrs. Hughes went through the pockets just in case, and what did she find? A train ticket from York to London for the date on which Mr Green popped his clogs after ‘falling under a bus’. Mrs Hughes went straight to Mary of course, who didn’t seem the least bit surprised. Bates is a murderer, she pretty much concluded. “You say it as if you already knew,” said Mrs Hughes. Oh come on, Mrs Hughes. LITERALLY EVERYONE KNEW. Even usually-oblivious-to-pretty-much-everything Robert knows that Bates is shady because a little bit later on he asks him if he knows ‘a man’ who can forge handwriting. Yes, I do know ‘a man’, says Bates nonchalantly, and gets the note done in a jiffy.

The note was one small part in a tediously complicated and ultimately pointless plot to retrieve a love letter sent by the Prince of Wales to a brunette aristocrat (who looked confusingly like another brunette aristocrat meaning I spent the first half of the episode trying to work out a) who was who and b) whether or not they were sisters) whilst various people were distracted by a game of poker or a trip to the theatre. In the end, the plan failed because the letter-thief (Sampson, the card shark from earlier this series – or was it last series? Oh God, I don’t know…) had the letter in his coat pocket. Luckily, seasoned criminal Bates worked this out and ‘helped Sampson with his coat’ before he left at the end of the evening, retrieving the letter, and thus exonerating himself in Mary’s eyes. Mary then burnt the train ticket. So essentially Bates got off murder by becoming a pickpocket. Ah well, like Robert said, it’s not stealing if the item in question has already been stolen. And apparently it’s not murder either, if your victim was a rapist. Downton has an interesting take on this whole ‘law’ thing.

Back to the ‘plot’. Martha Levinson was back! You know, the American grandma they made such a big thing about last year who turned up one episode, had a few spiky exchanges with Violet, and then left again. She did pretty much the same thing in this episode, except this time round she had her son, Harold, with her. Harold essentially spent the whole episode wondering round going ‘lolz’ at every archaic British tradition he came across. Please tell me I’m not the only one seeing the irony here. Everyone knows the USA have become infatuated with Downton and are now probably the only viewers that actually take it seriously. And yet the person who went around with their eyebrows raised, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all was American? Harold quite liked the food, though. He also took a shine to one of the brunette aristocrats – the other one this time (I think). Watch this space. (Unless he’s going to do a Martha and not appear again for another couple of series. If Downton even carries on that long. Which it inevitably will. Sigh.)

The script was as clunky as usual, for example in the conversation between Anna and Mrs Hughes about how Bates hated shopping. “It must be because he’s a man!” laughed Mrs Hughes, and Anna giggled. BECAUSE MEN DON’T LIKE SHOPPING. GEDDIT? Yeah, thanks. I think I’d pretty much got there. But then there were the absolute gems we’ve come to expect from Violet, the pinnacle of which was her response to former chauffeur Branson’s request for a dance: “I know I can trust you to steer.” Bravo.

There’s not really a lot else to talk about when it comes to the rest of the episode. Thomas did what he does best and in lurked in shadowy corridors with sultry backlighting. Eeydith did a bit more melancholic musing before hatching a not entirely failsafe plot to get her baby back to Downton. Mr Molesley helped Miss Baxter to stand up to Thomas. Daisy refused an offer to move to New York from Enthusiastic American Valet, letting Ivy go instead. And Anna prematurely decided that the next royal scandal probably wouldn’t involve the Crawley family. But that was before the Prince of Wales turned up to dance with Rose at her ball. Anna has the uncanny ability to foreshadow events by accident – let’s not forget the fateful “Mr Matthew can drive himself” line this time last year. Could another royal scandal involving Rose be on the horizon? Probably not. That would require something to happen, and as we’ve established, Julian Fellowes seems pretty against anything happening in Downton. What about Mary’s endless list of suitors? Well, it turns out Mr Pigsty is due to inherit a rather large country pile in Ulster! This changes things for Mary of course. But only because she knows they’ll be on the same page when it comes to their world view. Obvs. Nothing to do with the rather large country pile in Ulster. Not at all.

At the close of the episode, Downstairs went on an all-expenses paid trip to the seaside, apparently for a spot of innuendo bingo. Anna and Bates walked arm-in-arm on the beach. “Oh God,” grimaced the nation yet again, “please not another cringey Bates/Anna ‘romance’ scene.” Bates was annoyed that Anna hadn’t let him check his coat pockets before it was sold. How could she make it up to him? Apparently, by getting him a ‘penny lick’. In the immortal words of Mr Carson: “I don’t know how, but you managed to make that sound a little risqué.” Merry Christmas.