First look UK TV review: Raised by Wolves
Ivan Radford | On 05, Dec 2020
The words “Raised by Wolves” may bring to mind the 2013 sitcom by Caitlin Moran set in Wolverhampton. This HBO Max series is set however many years in the future on Kepler-22b, a planet where two androids are trying to raise human children following the destruction of Earth. Called Father and Mother, one of them is a service robot loaded with a roster of dad jokes, the other is a killing machine. Council estate comedy, this ain’t.
Written by Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners), the series is the kind of sombre affair that the prestige TV era excels at. Within the opening episode, we’ve learnt that the Earth was destroyed by a faith war between atheists and a religious order called the Mithraic. The androids are from the atheist side of the battle, tasked with keeping the human race alive. While they fight against the ideas of religion, they also name Campion (Winta McGrath), the only child to survive their batch of embryos, after their inventor’s namesake.
Those kind of paradoxes are everywhere, thanks to the script that wears its mythology on its sleeve. From telling stories to children to striking a balance between protection and aggression, Raised by Wolves is stuffed with moral, philosophical and theological questions, which are mostly asked by the young children in the cast – a whole batch of them being “rescued” from a Mithraic ark by Mother during a particularly nasty set piece.
Amanda Collin is excellent as the impossible-to-read matriarch, switching from friendly to fierce and from warm to cooly distant in the literal blink of an eye. She’s matched by an equally compelling Abubakar Salim as Father, who acts with a humanity that belies the true nature of the duo.
Trying to gauge the line between programming and some kind of soul recalls Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, which found its strength in the fascinating presence of Michael Fassbender’s David. Raised by Wolves has a similarly ominous and bleak feel to its visuals – Scott directs the first two episodes – but also shares that film’s slightly uneven and overly serious script, with its tendency towards heavy-handed pondering leaving the show with a lack of compassion, humour or emotional intrigue to really keep you engaged.
This is countered by some striking bursts of action and horror, but the repeated vignette of Mother hovering above pandemonium with a god-like detachment doesn’t help matters. There’s more grounded tension, however, in the form of Niamh Algar and Travis Fimmel as a pair of atheists who have snuck onto the Mithraic ark and are determined to get their kidnapped child back. If Prometheus was ultimately redeemed in hindsight by its follow-up, Alien: Covenant, the fact that HBO Max has already renewed the show for a second season holds some promise. Until then, based on Season 1’s opening episodes, there’s polished world-building to admire, but this tale of machines ironically feels a little hollow.
Raised by Wolves: Season 1 is available on Sky One. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.