Creator and director Adam Miller describes it as “Family Guy but with puppet animals”, while BBC comedy head Mark Freeland calls it “a feral Top Cat“. It’s the BBC3 comedy Mongrels, a new eight-part bad taste comedy from a channel that’s not afraid to nudge at boundaries, with shows such as Being Human and the fabulously bloody Pulse.
Like a post watershed Sesame Street, Mongrels introduces a menagerie of talking animals who congregate around the back of a London pub. There’s Destiny, an afghan bitch whose owner’s insistence on dragging her to a dog dancing show forces her to take decisive action.
Then there’s Nelson, a public school fox whose theft of a laptop results in an unlikely relationship with a chicken, a duplicitous pigeon called Kali, and a cat called Marion who displays an unhealthy penchant for the company of old ladies.
What’s immediately striking about Mongrels is the quality of the puppets. Well designed and full of character, they keep the show eminently watchable, even though the jokes occasionally fall flat. Perhaps it’s an over eagerness to grab attention, or even just a good, old-fashioned attempt to break taboos, but Mongrels is often at its weakest when it goes all out to shock.
Jokes about terrorist attacks, devouring deceased old ladies and serial killer Harold Shipman are a little too calculated (and sometimes obvious) to work – proof that bad taste humour isn’t always the easiest kind of comedy to write.
Mongrels is by no means devoid of amusement, however, and a throwaway gag at the expense of Michael Buble is certainly worth a titter, while the final ten minutes’ foul-mouthed cockney chicken song is well worth waiting for.
Mongrels is at its strongest when it falls back on its bizarre situational comedy rather than its sick gags. Destiny’s encounter with a canine obedience class, presented here as a kind of mind programming cult, displays an admirable leap of imagination, and Nelson’s interminable laptop theft story is brilliantly convoluted, as is his bizarre lakeside courtship of a Rhode Island chicken.
Despite its faults – and its relentlessly below-the-belt humour is a sign of its perverse eagerness to please – there’s much to enjoy about Mongrels, most notably the animals themselves. Posh fox Nelson, in particular, stands out immediately as a creature you’d happily watch again, uneven script notwithstanding.
Not a perfect debut, then, but certainly one with promise, and if Mongrels continues to play to the strengths of its characters and imaginative scenarios, it could well improve in episodes to come.