Acorn.tv/Channel 4

Raised By Wolves And The Rise Of The Horny Teenage Girl

The witty British comedy series embraces its lead character as she stumbles toward womanhood

Pop culture is finally embracing the horny teenage girl. There’s TV’s current poster child for unabashed, young female sexuality: the animated, butt-obsessed Tina Belcher on Bob’s Burgers. Blink and you might have missed Aubrey Plaza’s type-A valedictorian in The To Do List and Bel Powley’s blissed-out San Francisco flower child in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Less outwardly eager — but no less inwardly enthusiastic — is Sharon Rooney’s outsider-becoming-an-insider in My Mad Fat Diary, who ultimately learns to let herself receive pleasure from her hated body.

Even in this group, Raised by Wolves’s (Acorn TV/Channel 4) Germaine Garry (Helen Monks) stands out for her goofy shamelessness. She can’t help gushing to her sisters about the sexy eyes she sees everywhere, whether they belong to Osama bin Laden or a horse they encounter in the park. In the pilot, she licks the house of a boy she has a massive crush on, then in-and-outs her hand through the mail slot in the door, audibly moaning. It’s cartoonish and ridiculous, sure, but only from our post-polymorphously perverse perspective, when we’ve already been indoctrinated by what sexiness is supposed to look and feel like. Germaine, on the other hand, just goes along with whatever feels good to her, even if that means crowing about just having discovered masturbation at her great-grandmother’s funeral. Soaking in the world and its promises with her colossal, Tweety Bird peepers, Germaine — or at least her ardor for new experiences — is irresistible.

But Germaine isn’t even the most original character in this witty, bracing comedy. That would be Della (Rebekah Stanton) — a single mom to four daughters, including Germaine, and one son. Created and written by feminist author Caitlin Moran and her sister Caroline, Della feels like the apotheosis of female badassery squeezed into a form in which we rarely see that quality: motherhood. Clad in a leather jacket and seemingly born with a skeptical glare and a cigarette in her hand, Della gets the Moran sisters’ funniest lines and their most hilariously stinging criticisms. On maxi-pads: “They’re basically a small mattress in your pants.” On infinity scarves: “Should a 5-year-old in Bangladesh work an 18-hour day so some silly bitch over here can make her neck look chunky?” On her son’s supposedly girly Dora the Explorer backpack: “It features a girl. … That doesn’t make it a girl’s thing. … You know, like strip clubs.” And, most killingly, on underwear: “Knickers are basically a drip tray for your bits.”

Those who’ve read Caitlin Moran’s bestselling memoir How to Be a Woman will recognize plenty of the journalist’s bodily obsessions, political commentaries, and autobiographical details. Like the Morans in their youth, the teeming Garry brood are homeschooled and barely scrape by financially in an all-but-forgotten part of post-industrial England. (Unlike How to Be a Woman and Moran’s wonderful coming-of-age novel How to Build a Girl, Raised by Wolves is set in the contemporary era.) The story lines borrow heavily from stock sitcom tropes, but are generally resolved with a twist. Germaine’s hand gets stuck in that mail slot until Della threatens to chop it off with a small ax. (The practical Della is so handy with a tool — and such a force of nature — that Germaine’s panic at the sight of her mom with a blade is utterly believable.) In the second episode, Germaine contemplates stealing a DVD to give to her mom as a birthday gift — but she gabs about it for so long and so loudly that a store worker overhears and plucks it from her hand.

The Morans could use a defter touch with tone. Germaine’s excitement over getting to attend her first funeral shouldn’t make her so insensitive that she happily blurts out to her grandfather (Philip Jackson) that his mother has died. It’s important that the sunny and impulsive Germaine isn’t always likable — that her zest for life can grate, just like Leslie Knope’s did on Parks and Recreation — but the emotional arcs on Raised by Wolves aren’t as accomplished as its wordplay or its sense of place and family. The cultural references also occasionally go over my head, as do the slang. (If you’re British and reading this, please tell me what “I are arsed you” means.)

That’s why I’m relieved that Acorn TV, the streaming subscription website that began hosting Raised by Wolves’s six-episode debut season last month, offers captions. (Season 2 wrapped up in the U.K. this spring.) And yet some things need no translation, like Germaine’s clumsy yet ever-optimistic attempts at femininity. Stumbling toward womanhood — then figuring out that there’s no one way to be a lady — is a theme that Caitlin Moran has explored time and again, and she endows this version of herself with all of the effervescence and cluelessness of her own youth, though this time with happier outcomes. Fitting her chubby body into a Jane Austen–like gown to stalk the boy she likes at a club, her vest so tight around her waist that it looks like a 19th-century girdle, she’s willing to do anything for attention — until she realizes she doesn’t have to do a single thing she doesn’t want to do to, like kiss one of her sisters, for boys to make out with her. We never see her happier than when she flits around like a butterfly, alighting on the lips of every guy she sees. Worries evaporate; self-consciousness vanishes away. At least on that night, the world is hers.