What does it mean to be in a monogamous relationship? In Jez Butterworth’s Mammals, a silly yet strange dramedy starring James Corden and Sally Hawkins, it is the constraint, or at least the perception of such, from our more base desires. In this case, desire doesn’t solely refer to sex; it encompasses a life defined by excitement and independence that the characters have struggled to realize in their monogamous lives. It creates a disconnect for the characters as they all harbor secrets that they hold more closely than anything though rarely articulate. As a result, they end up finding their lives upended in ways both humorous and haunting that make for an intriguing if uneven experience over the series’ six short episodes.


At the center of it all is Jamie (Corden), who seems to have everything he could ever want. He is about to open his dream restaurant (an unintentionally funny plot point, considering recent news surrounding the actor) and is going on a nice trip with his girlfriend Amandine (Melia Kreiling) who he loves very much. An almost cartoonish cheery opening takes a very sudden turn when tragedy strikes, during which Jamie also discovers Amandine may be having an affair. Rather than be an adult by speaking to her about this, he decides to keep it to himself and try to piece together what she has been doing. He primarily does so by following her as we discover that his initial suspicions were merely the tip of the iceberg.

While all this is happening, Jamie’s sister Lue (Hawkins) is having a crisis of her own and has grown distant from her own partner Jeff (Colin Morgan) as of late. She has been coping by letting her mind wander and creating fantasies that provide an escape from the unsatisfactory life that she has found herself in. The show then pulls back the layers on the respective lives of all the characters to discover that each is, in their own way, troubled and uncertain about what to do.

Image via Prime Video


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There are times where Mammals‘ story struggles to fully convey the emotional depth of this. In particular, Corden feels out of his element and lacks the skill to hit some of the more complicated character beats. While this isn’t the first time he has felt miscast in a project, it becomes more apparent than in those prior works when he is made so central to the experience. His performance is limited to fluctuations between playing the character with a more reserved silence, which comes across as one-note more than anything else, and being over-the-top for comedic purposes. When we’re given scenes that focus on Hawkins, who is always a commanding performer even in works that are less so, it brings into focus all the ways that Corden isn’t up to the task. For all the jokes he takes swings at, none can compare to one great throwaway encounter where an old woman returns a Rubik’s Cube and begins crying when asked why she has done so. This single moment brought out more of a laugh than anything Corden managed to pull off throughout the entire six episodes. When the story in turn leans on him for more dramatic developments, he struggles to pull these off as well.

This doesn’t doom the show by any means, but there’s a sense that this central character ought to have been played by a more seasoned performer that grows with every subsequent scene. While Corden isn’t terrible, the range required of a role like this just isn’t there in all the ways that it can and should be. Considering how Kreiling is more in control, though given far less to work with, this becomes all the more unfortunate. Even an ending sequence with a melancholic Morgan that is far removed from the rest of the plot is infinitely more painful and profound. The same is true of the instances we’re gifted with Hawkins as her character sinks further into her fantasies. Many of these feel as if they have been plucked from a different and better show than much of what the story is interested in. A flashback episode does a sufficient job of flushing out more of who both Jamie and Amandine were when they first met, but the subsequent impact this has on the rest of the story isn’t enough to smooth over its rough patches. While the recurring presence of an enormous whale keeps hinting that the series could dive headfirst into more ambitious magical realism, it never takes the plunge outside of standout sequences in which Hawkins owns the stage. The dances she performs are dynamic and often deceptively dark. While one wishes they were not so fleeting in the show writ large, these are the mesmerizing moments that keep Mammals afloat.

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Image via Prime Video


Without giving away any details of the ending, it is a fitting one though still oddly truncated. One of the most significant revelations that had the potential to impact all the characters is left dangling in a manner that is so utterly unresolved that it plays as a rushed last-minute push for an additional season. This isn’t to say that more of a chance to delve into this story couldn’t be a potentially fruitful experience. Rather, it is the way this season wraps up that feels like it was a punchline it didn’t quite earn or, at the very least, didn’t set up as well as it could have. The final line especially lands a bit flat, and it may have even been better to just leave it out and let the scene speak for itself. As for what it all ends up saying about modern relationships, it is more than messy in a way that it doesn’t fully pull together. Still, for all the ways Mammals bites off more than it can chew, the overall meal is worth sitting down for to observe who the fellow diners at the table of life truly are.

Rating: B-

All six episodes of Mammals are available starting Friday, November 11 on Amazon Prime.

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