“Rain Dogs” is a British comedy — with plenty of bleak drama blended in — that follows Costello Jones, who is a single mother, and Iris, her 10-year-old daughter, into and out of homelessness. Costello has a toxic friendship with a friend named Selby, who has just been released from prison after an assault charge; they need and love each other, but Selby’s abusive nature inevitably spoils everything and undermines her progress.
The eight-episode HBO series, which runs Mondays at 10 p.m. and is now approaching the third of eight episodes, is uncompromising in its approach to poverty and the flawed social systems meant to help those in need. Created by Cash Carraway, it is a rough but ultimately rewarding trip.
But the driving force of the series is Daisy May Cooper, who is unforgettable as Costello.
Cooper is known in England, where she won a pair of BAFTAs for acting in and creating the 2017-20 series “This Country,” but “Rain Dogs” is my first real exposure to her work. She can be brash and funny, with Costello’s cynicism always at the ready to help her rise above bad circumstances. But she holds down the dramatic moments beautifully, too, particularly those involving young Iris.
Despite Costello’s bad behavior and poor decisions, Cooper makes sure she remains sympathetic throughout. “Rain Dogs” would be too grim, I think, without someone like Costello to root for (in addition, of course, to Iris). Cooper turns Costello’s resilience into a thing of beauty; she’s not simply a survivor who’s barreling through troubles. She’s too emotionally raw and available to just be forever moving on. But ultimately, she usually regains her balance and gets a bemused glint in her eye, a process that, even more than the occasional jokes, is what makes “Rain Dogs” a comedy.
Cooper, meanwhile, has another series on the way to the States. The comedy-thriller “Am I Being Unreasonable,” which she created and co-wrote, is coming to Hulu on April 11.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.