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Welcome to the 205th episode of TV’s Top 5, The Hollywood Reporter’s TV podcast.
Every week, hosts Lesley Goldberg (West Coast TV editor) and Daniel Fienberg (chief TV critic) break down the latest TV news with context from the business and critical sides, welcome showrunners, executives and other guests, and provide a critical guide of what to watch (or skip, as the case may be).
This week, we’re joined by Cash Carraway, the creator of HBO’s dark comedy Rain Dogs, for an interview about the working-class series that is inspired by her life and memoir.
Other topics during this week’s TV’s Top 5 include headlines of the week (featuring Mike Schur, Barry, Batman, The Sopranos creator David Chase and…Hot Wheels), Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s troubled Devil in the White City and a season in review discussion about Peacock’s Poker Face. Plus, Dan reviews Apple’s Ted Lasso, Paramount+’s School Spirits and Hulu/Onyx Collective’s UnPrisoned in the Critic’s Corner segment.
But first, read on for a condensed portion of our interview with Carraway.
It was initially announced in 2021 that Daisy May Cooper was going to star in a drama adaptation of your memoir Skint Estate and that it was even going to be called Cash Carraway. How did that autobiographical drama evolve into a comedy that in the press notes you emphasize isn’t autobiographical?
As I was writing it, just before that BBC announcement, I said I didn’t want to do this; it was so exposing. I don’t dislike the memoir but I dislike the fact that it was my only route to making money from writing; I was only ever allowed to write about myself. So I said it was too exposing and asked if there was any way I could write another show that tells a story about people who live in that world. But I didn’t want to tell my story. I went and wrote two scripts — the first two episodes — and thankfully, HBO said, “OK.” And Daisy was still on board as well.
Once you decided that this wouldn’t be a straightforward adaptation, how did you decide which autobiographical elements you still wanted to include here?
There’s lots of me in there. But I’m not Costello (Cooper) and Iris (Fleur Tashjian) isn’t my daughter. With the book, there wasn’t much of a story going on; it’s a load of thoughts that I had about my predicament, so I could start from scratch really. I could take Costello to places that I could never go personally.
When did you find the structure that would actually make this a series?
I was winging it in many ways. The first few episodes were written and ready to go and then we started shooting. I was writing it as we were going along. That helped with the messy nature of it and the chaotic experiences that these characters had because I was making them up on the fly. So, if it seems unstructured, that’s why.
When you’re adapting a memoir, people are more tentative to tell you how you want to tell your story. But if you’re no longer telling your story, it gives people license to give more notes. What kind of notes were you getting?
Because they wanted an authentic show about authentic working-class people, I did have that freedom. Television in the U.K. certainly is made often by very upper-class people. I knew who these characters were. I’ve lived this life; I’ve lived among these people. I know how they would react, how they would talk and the kind of things they would get up to. That’s why I was allowed to do it.
Did you find yourself more frequently sanitizing the things from your real life or making things worse for dramatic effect?
The opening of the show, for example, that’s not ever something that’s happened to me — I’ve never lived in pervert’s cupboard. There’s not many things that Costello does that I’ve actually done. But I have thought about them. I’ve worked in some of the jobs that she has — I’ve worked at a peep show. I’d done some of the things that she’s done and lived in some of the places she had lived. But I’ve never gone to the extremes that she has.
Where did the show’s title come from?
I love Tom Waits. I don’t massively love the album Rain Dogs actually; I’m more of a Closing Time-type of person. But yeah, just the image that it evokes. Rain dogs, drenched in the door, nowhere to go. The original title I was going to call it was All Shook Down, which is a Replacements album, just because of the cover with these two stray dogs. But Rain Dogs seemed like a better title.
At what point did HBO become involved and what sort of notes did they have?
They were always talking about comedy and making it funnier. The BBC wanted more drama and to feel these people’s pain more. It was so incredibly conflicting. The humor is lost in translation but the pathos is there. I had to explain a lot about how poverty works.
What kind of things did you have to explain to people about how poverty works?
It was more about how the British working-class are. For example, on the day Costello gets evicted, I had to explain that in working-class housing, everyone knows your business.
Is there more of a thirst for a depiction of working-class families in the U.K.? Because that happened here a few years ago with Roseanne, with the revival’s success leading to more stories about working-class Americans.
There’s very few shows like that here as well. When we tend to see working-class people on TV in the U.K. I don’t feel like I’m telling a story of poverty. I feel like I’m telling a story about a working-class woman who is trying to be something and she just happens to be in this difficult situation when we first meet her. I’m keen to avoid all those tropes. When we see people in poverty, we always have to show this immense pain. And Costello doesn’t show that pain. At the beginning, she really holds it back as she tries to remain strong and stand on her own two feet. But it becomes impossible for her to do that. Normally, when we see working-class characters in this country, they do tend to be in great need. And their stories are usually told through the eyes of a middle-class writer. I think you get a very different experience of a working-class family when it’s written by someone who feels sorry for them. I don’t feel sorry for the working class because I am working class and I’ve always been part of that world. So the way that I’m writing about the working class is with joy and spirit, I hope.
What were the challenges of making these characters, especially Selby (Jack Farthing) and Costello, as messy as you wanted them to be without making them so messy that they run the risk of alienating viewers?
There was more physical violence between them and them attacking other people together in the original early drafts. It would have really alienated people. When you do a first draft or a second draft, you go big, don’t you? You throw everything into it. It’s a melodramatic and a chaotic world that they inhabit. But it was just too much. The notes from HBO and the BBC helped to do that. We want to see these characters be immoral and messy as they navigate their world, but we need to relate to them as well. We need to feel attracted to them and want to follow them on that journey.
With the Selby-Costello relationship, this show swings the pendulum as to whether the relationship between them is toxic or nurturing. That’s obviously the question you’re supposed to be asking throughout. How did your own sympathies or perspective shift as you brought these characters together and tore them apart?
I love those characters so much. They’re toxic and even more toxic together. But they do love each other. And when that love is genuine, that sort of toxicity, elevates it away. I think their relationship is incredibly romantic. Many people would say it’s disgusting; they’re violent to each other, they should get away from each other. But they love their family and they want to bring it together. They want to be normal — or they try their hardest — and they just can’t. It felt very real because real love is messy. You only ever say the most horrific, disgusting things to the people that you truly love. It doesn’t feel like a typical abusive relationship. I certainly didn’t want to go down the route. Making Selby a full-on villain would have been so easy to do. But it would have been so boring.
Is Rain Dogs a world you’re ready to revisit? Is this an ongoing show or is it more closed-ended?
When I conceived it in my mind, it is a trilogy. I know where we get to at the end of that trilogy. I have an idea of the bits in between. But I don’t want to start writing it until we know for sure. But yes, I could stay with these characters. It feels to me like we’re only just getting started.
Listen to the full interview with Carroway for more on all things Rain Dogs. Be sure to subscribe to TV’s Top 5 to never miss an episode. (Reviews welcome!) You can also email us with any topics or Mailbag questions you’d like addressed in future episodes at TVsTop5@THR.com.
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