What does it look like to be a northern working class woman in her 30s? You’d be hard pushed to think of any small screen representation other than Shameless, The Royle Family and Alma’s Not Normal. And while those shows are utterly hilarious, so far, so bleak – not to mention two of them stopped airing around a decade ago.
TV shows about the London middle classes are far more common and decidedly less harrowing, from Motherland to Catastrophe, Fleabag to This Way Up. When it comes to portrayals of northern working class women, we’ve been short-changed in terms of both quantity and authenticity – until now. Introducing Hullraisers, the Derry Girls-meets-Drifters-meets-Motherland series that gives the middle finger to the yawn-worthy, 'it's grim up north' working class stereotype.
Loosely adapted from the Israeli hit show Little Mom, the six-part series is Channel 4’s new, chaotic comedy exploring the hilarious and agonising realities of life as a working class woman. We step into the Hull homes of three friends – Toni, Paula and Rana – as they juggle work, kids, demanding friends, even more demanding families and having a right old laugh.
Toni, played by Hull native Leah Brotherhead (Bridgerton), is an impulsive tornado of chaos. She’s a self-described actress with no acting credits to her name and though she adores her 4-year-old daughter Grace and soulmate Craig, she still daydreams about pre-parenthood and leaving her hometown. Paula is Toni’s polar-opposite, homebody sister, played by The Crown’s Sinead Matthews. She’s a mother of two, is married to Rana’s big brother and has never imagined living anywhere other than Hull. Our childless and single heroine (a rare addition to a TV circle of mum friends) comes in the form of Rana, played by Taj Atwal (Line of Duty), a self-assured policewoman whose libido gives Samantha Jones a run for her money.
When we first meet the gang, Toni arrives outside Paula’s house to ask if her homemade toadstool hat is passable for Grace’s school play. Paula is preoccupied with worries about her daughter Ashley’s new boyfriend, who "looks like a car thief". Paula soothes herself on her meat pie-flavoured vape (I kid you not): "The lads down Vape Culture do a tasty Yorkshire range." Rana rocks up, nursing a Pot Noodle (the green one, obviously) and the hangover from hell after a late night with a Hull City player – or so she thinks. "I told you not to reproduce, Toni," she quips, as Toni hangs on every word of her escapades before begging Rana to take her out-out. A failure of a BNO ensues, involving vomit, snogging and a gatecrashed wake. Paula stays at home in her dressing gown, squirting whipped cream directly from can to gob.
The series shows perfectly how your 30s can be just as messy and un-figured-out as your 20s. More uniquely, it positions working class life in the north as joyful and, dare I say it, enjoyable. In TV terms, this is maddeningly groundbreaking.
As a born and raised Mancunian, I can confirm that neither the grittiness of Shameless nor the extremity of Alma’s Not Normal nor the stifling mundanity of The Royle Family remotely lined up with my happy, love-filled experiences or those of my family’s working class friends. Hullraisers amends the misguided onscreen narrative that each day is a miserable struggle for the average working class woman. One of the reasons it does this so well? Its authenticity is all thanks to its writers, Lucy Beaumont (Meet The Richardsons), Anne-Marie O’Connor (Trollied) and Caroline Moran (Raised By Wolves), who mined their own working class upbringings for inspiration. Beaumont based Toni, Rana and Paula on five of her real-life friends and included many of their genuine anecdotes. A Hull native herself, she took this opportunity to reclaim her hometown by making sure it was never the butt of the joke.
That this show is based in Hull makes it even more important. Hull is the epitome of the overlooked, forgotten north. It is routinely voted one of the worst places to live in the UK and even being named UK City of Culture in 2017 couldn’t salvage its reputation, merely cementing it as a laughing stock to many. Beaumont shows Hull as she knows it: an energetic town full of creative and interesting people.
But don’t worry, the series certainly doesn’t take the north <too> seriously. It isn’t afraid to embrace its tropes, within reason, such as our love of Pot Noodles (valid) and Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puds (even more valid). I’d go so far as to say that the meat pie-flavoured vape is a touch too on the nose but then again, I’m not from Yorkshire.
Hullraisers rallies against many other stereotypes, like the idea that a sexually liberated woman is a subconscious attention-seeker attempting to mask her insecurities. Rana is in control of her casual sexploits and loves who she is – as do we. Her character is a huge win for South Asian representation on screen, adding to a host of recent projects providing long-overdue major roles, from Bridgerton to Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever.
Then there’s its depiction of motherhood, which is a far cry from the way some shows pander to the cult of parenthood, whereby the characters take their self-worth from parenting. Just like in real life, if you haven’t got much money and you’re busy, you don’t waste time being neurotic about your parenting choices. There are no redemption scenes where our beloved characters correct their flaws; they simply are who they are and they’re getting bloody on with it.
Hullraisers is unapologetic. It’s laugh out loud. It’s real. It proves there are lives worth viewing outside the M25! And in the week that Derry Girls enters its final season, I have no doubt that Hullraisers has the potential to fill that ever-approaching, gaping hole in our hearts. Let’s hope it can be just as long-running.
Hullraisers is available to watch on Channel 4 on 12th April