Mongrels series 2 episode 5 review

Even Cillit Bang commercial parodies can’t save this week’s Mongrels, James writes, in his review of episode five…

Farewell cautious optimism. I’m afraid I shan’t be bothering with you until this series of Mongrels is over. This week proved that Mongrels is subject to the laws of physics – what goes up must come down, whether that’s a physical object or Mongrels’ level of quality. 

This week, Nelson learns that Gary is planning to concrete over his den in order to build a smoking area. After consulting his solicitor, he finds out that if his den is home to an endangered species, then Gary won’t be able to build the smoking area. After failing to adopt a chimpanzee from the zoo, Nelson puts an advert in the paper looking for a lodger. When all seems lost, Nelson’s salvation comes in the form of a red squirrel. However, Nelson’s not out of the woods yet, as Vince gives Nelson 24 hours to get rid of the squirrel or he (Vince) will kill it.

This development seems horribly contrived, and no explanation is given for it whatsoever. You can counter this by saying Vince is a psychopath who kills at the drop of a hat, but prior to this episode, he’s always killed for a reason, albeit very flimsy ones. All seems to be going well for Nelson until the squirrel becomes addicted to crack and suffers a fatal overdose. However, Nelson manages to bring her back to life by injecting adrenaline into her heart.

The day of the building inspection comes, but Nelson’s plans are thwarted when Vince chases the squirrel away. Nelson’s den is saved when Gary realises that the construction of the smoking area is too expensive, and is forced to halt the project.

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After getting his head stuck in a car wheel, Marion becomes a YouTube sensation. But while visiting a zoo with Nelson, who is attempting to adopt a chimp so that his den will house an endangered species (there’s quite a good take on animal adoption here), encounters a big cat who has seen him on YouTube and lambasts him for being like every other cat on the Internet and perpetuating the stereotype of cats being stupid. Marion resolves to change this and (helped by Kali), he attempts to put something on YouTube that shows cats as intelligent and talented.

His attempts fail completely, as he’s pretty much talentless, until he displays a surprising ability for playing the piano. Kali posts the video on YouTube, but people believe it’s staged because Marion’s piano playing is of such high quality, and consequently, only gets seven views.Kali edits it to make Marion look a complete idiot, and the stereotype of cats on the Internet continues.

This sub-plot contains some of the cleverest writing of the episode, and the subversion of the audience’s expectations at the start of the episode works really well. There’s also a brilliantly dark moment at the zoo, where the big cat’s kitten imitates Marion and sticks his head in a car wheel, only to end up asphyxiating himself.

Despite some clever writing here and there, I can’t help but think that this storyline missed an opportunity to send-up the concept of Internet celebrities. Marion being an web celebrity had a lot more comic potential than him attempting to become respected. Destiny is being constantly irritated by a noise that only she can hear. She follows it to the cellar and finds a tortoise blowing a dog whistle to try and get her attention.

The tortoise points out several headstones in the garden and tells Destiny that they are the graves of her predecessors. He shows her a photo album of Gary with dogs at various points in his life from childhood up to the present day. The tortoise misinterprets this and believes that Gary has been murdering the dogs. After hearing Gary on the phone to somebody, they misunderstand the conversation he is having, and believe that Destiny is next.

They plan to kill Gary, but realise that he’s actually taking Destiny on holiday, which she wants to avoid at all costs. When she finds out that there’s crack in Nelson’s den, she asks if anyone has any condoms, and over the credits we see her at customs throwing up condoms filled with crack. This is definitely the weakest subplot of the episode. There are some good gags with the tortoise, but it just seems to flit from one scenario to another without enough development. The idea had a lot of potential, but it just seems wasted.

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The biggest problem with this episode is that it’s overly reliant on cutaways and pop culture references. In half an hour, we get cutaways and references to Up, Embarrassing Bodies, Life Of Riley, the Cilit Bang adverts, White Chicks, The Trip, Pulp Fiction, Field Of Dreams, and Trainspotting. At one point, we get parodies of the last three on that list in the space of 90 seconds. And of those three, it’s only the Field Of Dreams gag that shows any real inventiveness.

Also, the programme seems to be going down the Family Guy route with its cutaways. The parody of The Trip is set up by Destiny saying “It’ll be like that time Gary took me on that self-indulgent restaurant tour of the north of England”. That joke could have replaced with pretty much any other gag you can think of. Let’s compare this to a cutaway from the very first episode. When Marion announces he is going to be castrated, Kali’s response is “You can achieve a hell of a lot in life without any testicles”. It then cuts to a Michael Bublé concert. The difference is that the latter joke wouldn’t work in another episode. It was specifically structured for that scene. Whereas the former is basically “This is like when (Insert joke here)”.  

One of the other problems is that some parts of the episode seem to be structured around setting up the cutaway gags – for example, the sequence where the red squirrel overdoses on crack. It crops up out of the blue, is only there to set up a trio of film parodies, and after these parodies are finished, it isn’t referenced again. It has absolutely no impact on the story whatsoever, other than Destiny using the crack at the end of the episode, and editing it out would make very little difference.

The parody of the Cilit Bang adverts is also an example of this. The episode stops halfway through as though it were on a commercial channel and going to an ad break. We then cut to Vince promoting a kitchen spray called “Cilit C***”. The preceding scene was written in a way that would leave it on a brief cliffhanger just to set up a completely unrelated cutaway gag.  

Also, some of the cutaways just don’t work. Again, the parody of the Cilit Bang adverts is a fairly big example. For a start,  it’s dated. The Cilit Bang adverts aren’t on TV anymore, and lost their notoriety several years ago. Also, this cutaway barely counts as a parody. All it does is replace the word “bang” with “c***”. If it showed Vince imitating Neil Burgess’ (the actor who fronted the adverts) mannerisms or the way the adverts were set up, it would be a legitimate parody. But this doesn’t happen. Nor does it include any of Vince’s characteristics apart from his overuse of the word c***. 

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The good moments in this episode are few and far between, and are mostly subtle visual gags, such as a pair of dogs crucifying a cat, and Gary’s wife having an entry in the photo album of his dead dogs. Other good moments are a parody of the film cliché of sneaking into a building by standing on someone’s shoulders while wearing a trenchcoat, and Marion’s attempts to resuscitate a goldfish. Also, plot-wise, there’s a little bit more cohesion as Marion’s story coincides with Nelson’s fairly frequently, and there are quite a few scenes of them together. 

Unfortunately, Kali and Vince are pretty much wasted in this episode. Kali really should be the driving force behind Marion’s story, but instead she’s just on the sidelines, giving him feedback and filming him doing things as opposed to being a more active character as in other episodes.

Also, Vince only crops four times. The first time to do an unbelievably old joke that has lost almost all of its comedic value (and adding the word c*** to it doesn’t change that), the second time to declare his intent to kill the red squirrel, the third time to do the Cilit Bang parody, the fourth time to try and kill the squirrel. Though, given that Paul Kaye voiced the Tortoise as well as Vince, it seems logical to sideline Vince to an extent. It’s a shame that Vince’s scenes aren’t any good.  I think I can safely say that this is my least favourite episode of Mongrels so far.

The sub-plots are meandering and have no real impact or many clever moments to them, and the cutaway gags don’t work and are far too numerous. To be honest, I’m not going to get my hopes up about the rest of the series. I can only hope that the reason that the fifth episode was shunted back a week and replaced with the seventh was to have a decent episode propping up the latter half of the series.