Rain Dogs is good for a lot of the same reasons Am I Being Unreasonable? was good – seeing Daisy May Cooper weather a seemingly endless array of the slings and arrows life can and will throw at you. Unfortunately Cooper’s onscreen child here isn’t a patch on AIBU?’s Lenny Rush, and ends up being little more than a morality pet who gets toted around like a suitcase.
This strikes at a clear and fundamental issue with the show: though billed as a comedy-drama in the same way as AIBU?, it’s much heavier on the drama side. The comedy is sporadic, and mostly of the audacious sort, where what’s going on onscreen is so alarming you are presented with an immediate split-second choice between laughter and going insane.
Part of me is inclined to forgive some of the more disjointed plot points on the basis that Rain Dogs was inspired by real events, and their shameful lack of narrative cohesion. And if it was a straight ‘this really happened’ biopic, perhaps that would have some merit, but those real events have gone through several layers of filter now: loosely adapted into a script, acted out by living people, filmed, and cut together, any one of which you’d have expected to sand off the rougher edges.
As such Rain Dogs has absolutely no excuse for the ephemeral use of some of its cast members, popping them briefly into the narrative before they vanish completely with no goodbye. Karl Pilkington lasts all of three total minutes onscreen, Emily Fairn gets a fraction of one episode to be the same sort of awful waif she played so excellently in The Responder.
Ade Edmondson, at least, is treated like an actual cast member rather than someone who’s wandered into shot. Lying in bed wanking while surrounded by abstract vaginal daubs, the highest praise I can offer his role – and that it’s possible to give it – is that Rik Mayall would be proud. Supposedly the two had always talked about returning to their old Bottom formula as old men, hitting each other with zimmer frames, and this is the nearest we’re likely to get.
The first episode starts off very strongly indeed, with Cooper and her daughter actually being evicted, from where it’s a catalogue of the kind of desperate dirty tricks you need to resort to when you’re penniless on the fringes of society – which is at once funny, touching, and frighteningly real. So having found this groove so early on, it’s strange that it doesn’t stay there, instead skipping to and fro, putting a toe in some plot or other before abandoning it, to some very mixed results.
For a show that actually says the words ‘poverty porn’ in critical tone very early on, Rain Dogs isn’t too shy about going directly there. It doesn’t dwell on it, you can’t accuse it of that, but this breeziness over some incredibly bleak subjects indeed comes off, well, distracted.
We don’t need to see extended sequences of Cooper stumbling about drunk to understand she’s going wine-crazy. Having established her as a recovering alcoholic, a shot of her with a glass of wine is enough. But when it comes to the most traumatic aspects of her life, to merely mention them – present them like a bouquet of flowers – before moving briskly on just seems like checking points off a list.
Perhaps the most confused part of the story is that Cooper’s opposite, the second pillar of the whole structure, is an authentic British posh twat with a seemingly infinite supply of money. He’s an enjoyable enough presence, deploying the carefree cattiness that fiction reserves entirely for the posh and the homosexual (and he is of course both), but his presence in the story renders all of Cooper’s problems basically arbitrary. It’s like the verse in Pulp’s Common People, ‘if you called your dad he could stop it all’, a dynamic which drastically undermines what Rain Dogs is trying to do.
I hate to keep coming back to AIBU, but that show, very distinctly, did not have a prominent character who could solve all the narrative’s problems at a stroke. In fact, most works of fiction don’t have one of those, and of those that do, history records that Gandalf never became inordinately proud of how petulant he was being, and One-Punch Man didn’t indulge in petty cruelty for the sake of a mid-season shock reveal.
Admittedly, Rain Dogs is about more flawed and recognisable personae than a wizard or a man who can beat anyone with one punch. And this is to its credit, but when it tries to gin up sympathy for a figure who’s making everything worse out of a fit of self-indulgence – well, to put it mildly, you will have your own subjective tolerance for that kind of thing.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the presence of Lord Ponsonby-Smythe (not the character’s actual name) is that it drags the show sideways, firmly into a realm that borders on magical realism, rather than the non-qualified realism it’s grasping for. There’s a moment in House Of Leaves where Johnny Truant, having hit a real low, is taken in by some caring friends he’d never mentioned before, only to then reveal he’d made this up and mock the reader for believing it. Rain Dogs has more-or-less given Truant’s fictional friends top billing alongside Cooper.
But if you can swallow the inexplicable presence of Baronet Ffyffington-Ffart, he’s just an incongruously-accented example of a type which Rain Dogs is thickly populated with – the whisky-priests who know full well they’re doing wrong, and, occasionally, make a real stab at doing better. It sounds rote and obvious put like that, but Rain Dogs brings this process unflinchingly to life.
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Sometimes frustrating, sometimes seeming more like a string of dissolute sketches, Rain Dogs is nonetheless raw and real – and deliciously funny when it wants to be.
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