Following 2013’s promising pilot episode, Raised By Wolves returns to Channel 4 tonight (March 16) for a six-part series. Created and written by the Moran sisters, The Times columnist Caitlin and Caroline, who has a background in fringe theatre, this semi-autobiographical sitcom follows a family of home-schooled kids being brought up by formidable single mum Della (Rebekah Staton) in a Wolverhampton council house.
It’s warm, funny and brilliantly idiosyncratic – the jokes are inspired by everything from a character getting her first period to the popularity of smug TV homes guru Kirstie Allsopp – and in an added bonus, has a soundtrack packed with bangers by artists as eclectic as Foo Fighters, P Diddy and Bonnie Tyler. NME gave Caroline a call to find out how she mined her unusual upbringing for comedy gold.
How would you describe the show’s premise?
“It’s about a gang of home-educated children – there’s six of them – living with their mum, who’s a kind of Doomsday prepper-type person, in Wolverhampton… yeah, that’s enough of the spiel isn’t it? And it’s a sitcom, I should add, it’s supposed to be funny.”
To what extent would you say it’s autobiographical?
“Um… the setting is autobiographical in that I did grow up with my sister, Caitlin, who obviously co-wrote the show with me, in a house full of home-educated children in Wolverhampton. I have ginger hair, as does the character Aretha in the show, and Caitlin has darker character like the character Germaine, and those characters are obviously based on us. But the events that happen in the show are much more interesting and exciting than what happened in our actual lives, because we just sat on the sofa all day and ate cheese and watched television. We realised, sadly, that a programme about people sitting on a sofa all day watching television had already been done, and that was Beavis and Butt-head.”
And I guess The Royle Family too, for British audiences.
“Yeah, and I suppose Gogglebox too now actually. So sadly, yes, we had to go away and think of interesting situations and stuff for our show.”
Was it pretty intense writing the show with your sister?
“In a way, it was really good research for the dynamic between Germaine and Aretha in the show, because they’re forced together in a small room a lot of time, and as we we were writing it we were obviously together in a small room and it brought out the extremes of our personalities. Caitlin’s very out there and outspoken and extrovert, whereas I tend to be quite sort of grumpy and quiet and sarcastic. It was almost like we were going method and ‘being’ the characters. You know, we did our brainstorming sessions in a hired office used by corporate companies so there were, like, guys in suits next door actually trying to get stuff done. God knows what they thought we were up to all day, padding in and out wearing tracksuit tops and Doc Marten’s.”
The pilot aired on Channel 4 just before Christmas in 2013. How long did it take to write these six episodes?
“Oh, just all of my life, Nick. It’s all just a big blur of me typing at my computer and eating bananas to be honest – it has completely consumed my life since we got the go-ahead [from Channel 4] this time last year. We wrote continuously until about July of last year, and then there was rehearsals, followed by rewrites and tweaks and things, and then I was on set for two months, and then I was on the edit for another two months. So it sounds really weird, but we only finished the series about six weeks ago.”
The children in the show all have amazing names: Germaine, Aretha, Yoko, Cher. What was the thinking behind that?
“Well, we kind of liked the idea that [the show’s mother] Della wanted to name her children after strong women. Obviously she didn’t realise how many children she was going to have, so she started off naming them after Germaine Greer, Aretha Franklin, Yoko Ono. Then with Mariah, we thought it was so funny that she might be starting to run a bit dry with female hero names, so she went for Mariah Carey. But then she brought it back round again, of course, with baby Cher. And her son, Wyatt, is named after Wyatt Earp, her favourite Kevin Costner performance, because Della’s very into Kevin Costner, which is a trait I’ve given her.”
You’ve said you based the character of Della on Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Linda Hamilton in Terminator.
“Yes, because they’re so cool! Della’s kind of larger than life, but obviously we wanted her to be believable too. My own personal fantasy, which is obviously unachievable, is that I could be anywhere near as cool as Della. It’s kind of wish fulfilment for me: if I was Linda Hamilton living in Wolverhampton, how would I raise my children? Della’s got a very powerful maternal instinct, but she’s also hard as nails and has a power drill and wears a visor and likes to smoke. Amazing. I think that’s incredibly cool myself.”
The music used in the show is pretty eclectic – there’s everything from Foo Fighters to Duran Duran to Ke$ha – and you hand-picked every song. How did you go about choosing them?
“Well, sometimes we used music to add comedy to scenes, so in the scene where they’re all walking down the street, this weird-looking group of girls in strange clothes, loads of them, we used ‘Bad Boy For Life’ by P Diddy over that. Because it’s a bit ridiculous – they’re in Wolverhampton. And sometimes we’d pick songs specifically for the character: Grampy’s really into his divas, so we used Gloria Gaynor and Bonnie Tyler for some of his scenes, and Della’s more into rock so we used Foo Fighters and The Prodigy and Brody Dalle, stuff like that. But I genuinely love all of he music that we used – I would just listen to hours and hours of music every night, it was amazing.”
Were there any songs you were really dead set on using?
“Yeah, there were some songs that we knew we just had to use. In episode three we use ‘Party Hard’ by Andrew WK because that song is kind of totemic in our family. And in episode one we use ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ by Duran Duran because the show is set in Wolverhampton and obviously they’re a Midlands band. And we wanted to use some songs that people would think were unusual and kind of cheesy, but actually are stone cold cool. ‘Would I Lie To You’ by Charles & Eddie is one of those; it’s in episode three. I listened to that song, like, 55 times a day while writing that episode. I know I’m not the only person who does this, other people have told me it’s OK, so I know it’s not completely abhorrent behaviour.”
Raised By Wolves begins tonight (March 16) at 10pm on Channel 4.