Dysfunction Done Right in HBO’s “Rain Dogs”

Save this storySave this storySave this storySave this story

Television loves found families: the broods of urban singles (“Friends”), the gradual coalescence among dissimilar roommates (“The Golden Girls”), the incestuous intimacy between co-workers (“The Office”), and, more recently, the chosen families that make queer survival possible (“Pose”). Our decades-long romanticization of surrogate clans helps explain the freshness of a series like HBO/BBC’s “Rain Dogs,” a tragicomedy that understands how volitional bonds can be just as toxic as familial ones. Early in the London-set series, which premièred in March, Costello Jones (Daisy May Cooper), a single mom, calls her gay best friend, Florian Selby (Jack Farthing), seeking his help: “I’ve somehow found myself trapped in a pervert’s cupboard.” Evicted from her apartment that day, Costello and her nine-year-old daughter, Iris (Fleur Tashjian), subsequently moved in with a stranger whom Costello had met hours earlier while standing in line at a convenience store. Selby, newly released from prison after serving a yearlong sentence for serious assault, comes to his friend’s rescue, but he doesn’t spare her from his fury. After pummelling Costello’s would-be exploiter—and making sure that Iris can’t see them—he puts his hand around Costello’s neck and shoves her against the wall, berating her for putting herself and her child in danger. Costello, who is taller and at least as sturdy as Selby is, slaps him across the face and threatens to send him back to prison if he continues his attack. They’re Will and Grace with fists—and better jokes.

The night’s violence barely registers between Selby and Costello, who are in their thirties and have been friends since college. In a later scene, waxing faux-nostalgic about their university days, Selby reminisces, with tongue planted in cheek, “That was where I first hit you, wasn’t it?” At the time, Costello was an overachiever fleeing her noxious, working-class family, and Selby the heir of a wealthy businessman who died by suicide and an icy matriarch (Anna Chancellor) withholding his inheritance. Selby is probably the person Costello loves most in the world after her child, and there’s no one whom she can depend on more reliably. But it’s not necessarily their codependency—or Costello’s regular money troubles—that tethers the friends to each other, but, rather, Iris, whom Selby loves enough to try to adopt as his daughter. (The identity of Iris’s father is never revealed nor relevant to the plot.) Despite her closeness with Selby, Costello is rightly wary of his influence on her daughter (and it doesn’t help his case when he asserts things like “it’s completely normal to hate the people you love”). But Selby is also justifiably suspicious of Costello’s choices, which are borne out of an economic desperation that he can’t understand, even with his gambling addiction, and which often prioritize Costello’s dreams of becoming an author who’ll heroically write her way out of her dire straits. “I deserve to be something, don’t I?” Costello pleads to an older friend, who resignedly responds that Costello is hardly alone in letting her thwarted ambition eat away at so much of her that she has little left to give to those who need her.

“Rain Dogs” spans eight half-hour episodes, during which Costello and Iris bounce around nearly as many residences, including council housing and a women’s shelter. (The series is named for a phrase coined by Tom Waits, in his song of the same title, about those who, having nowhere else to go, “huddle a doorway” during downpours.) On its face, the show bears many similarities to “Maid,” the 2021 Netflix adaptation of Stephanie Land’s memoir about an impoverished single mother who escapes an abusive relationship and runs into bureaucratic hurdles to economic relief. Cash Carraway, the creator of the HBO/BBC series, wrote about analogous experiences in her own autobiography, “Skint Estate,” but this fictional work is less a plea for sympathy than a showcase for flawed humanity and (occasionally outrageous) gallows humor. The bare facts of Costello’s life—childhood trauma, alcohol issues, stints in sex work—are brutally clichéd on paper, yet invigoratingly dramatized onscreen, with Cooper, an extraordinary comic talent, providing emotional anchoring and world-weary irony. After its relatively conventional, audience-disarming start, “Rain Dogs” fully won me over when Costello lands at the women’s shelter, which bars her from working, since the government funds that would go toward her welfare are collected by the organization. In need of cash, Costello and another resident, Jade (Phoebe Thomas), begin cam-girling under the username “batteredbitches,” dowdy-ing themselves with a series of outfits best described as donation-bin ugly, to cater to a niche fetish: the horny versions of those “stereotypical weak bitches who live in refuges,” Jade explains. “The pathetic ones you see on telly, crying with limp, lifeless hair.” (Surprise: male heterosexual desire is wildly lucrative and endlessly terrifying.)

Costello makes fast friends wherever she goes, although no one reaches—or enrages—her the way Selby does. The rather adult dysfunctions in their friendship are unlike anything I’ve seen on television before, and the excellent leads make believable their characters’ long, excruciating friendship: a pact of bone-deep understanding and mutually assured destruction. Such is the chemistry between Cooper and Farthing that, when the series tears their characters apart in its second half, we crave for them to reunite—like Batman and the Joker, except, in this case, they’re both the Joker.

Even as its tone grows darker, the show’s energy hardly flags; “Rain Dogs” quickly swaps out the magnetism of the friends’ self-destructive spirals for indignation at the literary and journalistic gatekeepers who claim to want “a voice who represents the working class” but reject Costello for failing to comport to “how authors behave.” At the peep-show theatre where Costello works for a while, a reporter offers to write up her story—an opportunity, Costello jokes dismissively, to serve as the “liberals’ victim of the week.” Costello counters that she’d like to speak for herself, and writes an article about her experiences at the theatre, in a move that risks Iris’s ostracization at school but might finally get her mother’s writing career off the ground. Somewhat predictably, the publication never runs it; instead, Costello’s picture becomes a mere illustration for the reporter’s polemic sloganeering that “sex work is real work.”

The season later offers a deeper exploration of the pigeonholing and cherry-picking within the representation-industrial complex, in which a fickle publishing industry reveals its narrow ideas about what counts as authenticity. Sharp details evoke the ambient shame of being poor: judgments from other people when Costello doesn’t choose the cheapest ice-cream bar or bag of chips, and, in one hilarious instance, a man’s attempts to reassure her about her weight by noting, “You just got a food-bank body, that’s all.” (“Lots of carbs,” he sympathizes.) As undependable as Costello can be as a parent or a friend, the value of her defiantly self-determined point of view is never in doubt. As another of her confederates in unheralded but tireless creative pursuit tells her, “You don’t know your place. That’s the best thing about you.” ♦

Sourse: newyorker.com

No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *