Mongrels series 2 episodes 1 and 2 review

The British puppet-based sitcom Mongrels is back, and it’s as gleefully rude as ever. Here’s James’ review of episodes one and two...

It’s been just over a year since we left our feral friends on the Isle of Dogs, and now they’ve returned, as funny and foul-mouthed as ever. For those unfamiliar with Mongrels, it’s a puppet-based sitcom that takes place behind a pub on the Isle of Dogs, focusing on the lives of middle-class fox Nelson (Rufus Jones), his aggressive cousin Vince (Paul Kaye), dim-witted cat Marion (Dan Tetsell), vindictive pigeon Kali (Katy Brand), and Destiny (Lucy Montgomery), a vain, pampered Afghan hound.

Episode One

We start with a flashback to Nelson’s childhood, and the death of his grandfather in a fox hunt. We then cut to the present day, where Nelson is in therapy. As amusing as this scene is, it seems a little unnecessary, as Nelson has repressed the memory of his grandfather’s death and he is later told about it by another character. When Nelson returns home, he discovers he has a visitor: Rory, a beagle who used to bully him when they were at school together. There’s an excellent Grange Hill parody here, showing that, when it comes to cutaway gags, the Mongrels team have still got it. Rory is dying of lung cancer and wants Nelson to kill him. With great reluctance, Nelson kills him and when his psychiatrist lets it slip when talking to Kali, the news spreads and Nelson gains the respect of Vince, Destiny, and Kali.

Vince then recruits Nelson into a secret society that is committed to wiping out the four remaining beagles that took part in fox hunts several years before. Wanting revenge for the death of his grandfather and tempted by the offer of an expense account, an iPhone, and a £30 House of Fraser gift card, he joins up. But after tracking one of the beagles to Arundel in West Sussex (which becomes the subject of quite a nice, if brief, running gag), Nelson finds that he can’t bring himself to murder the beagles, and ends up harbouring the four of them in his den.

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The ending is disappointingly abrupt, as the beagles all take suicide pills, believing that Nelson’s den is being hit by artillery fired by foxes. Although the story is a very skilful parody on films about Nazi hunters, the analogy of the beagles and the Nazis is a bit too obvious, with them putting up a portrait of Hitler in Nelson’s den and speaking with German accents. A little more subtlety would have been better.

Elsewhere in the episode, Destiny’s owner Gary registers her with a dog walking service used by celebrities, and Destiny falls for footballer John Terry’s dog. After being knocked back, Destiny takes Kali’s advice and decides that domestic abuse is the solution. Before long, John Terry’s dog is completely subservient and the other dogs begin to use this method, all successfully gaining celebrity boyfriends. Of course, this doesn’t last. A passerby sees the injured dogs, and phones the Dogs Trust, who promptly take the dogs away. Although not as amusing as the main storyline, Destiny’s sub-plot has some great moments and an excellent song about domestic violence sung to the tune of Lily Allen’s LDN.

On the other hand, Marion’s story for this episode is unbearably dull. When he goes to bury Rory at Nelson’s request, he sees a goldfish in a tank on somebody’s windowsill. This goldfish begins telling him various facts such as how many dimples there are on a regulation golf ball. He’s basically a piscine Norris McWhirter. Marion is fascinated by the goldfish and takes him home to the pub. Then later, for no adequately explained reason, the goldfish suddenly acquires a three second memory and Marion attempts to re-educate him. Then at the end we find out that he died because Marion mistakenly believed that fish could survive on dry land.

The writers also use the programme’s newfound notoriety and popularity to include a couple of new gags, mainly ones that involve breaking the fourth wall such as putting in canned laughter when Vince appears, resulting in him headbutting the camera. They also have a crack at referencing previous episodes which works quite well with Kali being on the cover of a magazine called “Suppressed Lesbian Pigeon Monthly” (referencing her brief flirtation with homosexuality in series one episode four, and convincing Nelson to let her help assassinate the beagles by reminding him that she murdered Harry Hill (referencing series one episode seven).

The humour in this episode is fine, but the pacing is way off. The set-up of Nelson’s story is too long and the story itself is too ambitious for the limited time given to tell it, which is the reason for the lack of depth and the disappointingly abrupt ending. The obvious solution would have been to axe Marion’s sub-plot completely and use the time given to it to expand Nelson’s story. Destiny’s story holds up reasonably well, but seems somewhat rushed. On the whole, it’s a good start to the new series but a little bit below par for Mongrels.

Episode Two

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After a somewhat shaky opening episode, series two of Mongrels really gets into its stride with this episode. It’s classic Mongrels, with a great story, cutaway gags, the obligatory musical number, and a few guest stars (Russell Tovey and Ainsley Harriot).

Destiny is in heat and turns any dogs near her into sex crazed zombies. Mistakenly believing Gary to be dead at the paws of the dogs, Nelson, Destiny, Marion, and Vince barricade themselves inside the pub until Destiny stops ovulating and the zombie dogs lose interest. It’s an interesting experiment for Mongrels to do something close to a bottle episode (a sitcom episode that takes entirely in one location), but it works well.

Nelson sees the situation as an attempt to win Destiny over (which has been an underlying story arc since the series’ first episode), and they eventually become an item. Though it’s a façade that Destiny keeps up only because Nelson provides her with food since she’s too stupid to understand that food just doesn’t appear in her bowl. There’s a brilliantly funny allusion to prostitution here, when Destiny lists what she’ll do for dog biscuits.

Being able to fly, Kali has no reason to fear the dogs, and goes out to celebrate her birthday. While eating a badger at the side of the road, she is outraged when a rickshaw driver runs it over and vows revenge. This takes the form of her crapping on the seat of his rickshaw and then blowing it up while he’s on it. However, she learns that he has a seven-year-old son and immediately falls into a depression over what has done, drinking heavily (well, as soon as she finds a bendy straw).

She later attends his funeral, lands on his coffin and confesses to the murder. But as the rickshaw driver was a pigeon fancier, the mourners believe Kali to be a sign that the driver is alright. This helps to lift her out of her depression. It’s nice to see the writers imbuing Kali with a bit of humanity (for lack of a better word), as usually, murder is par for the course for her and it never troubles her again. But we see her witnessing the consequences of her actions and how seriously it affects her.

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Meanwhile, Marion decides to hold a karaoke party in the pub which is promptly hijacked by Vince with an unforgettable rendition of We Will Rock You. Although it’s mainly just padding, it’s a perfectly serviceable sub-plot with some good moments. It also provides Vince with some character development, as we learn that the only reason he swears is that he has Tourette Syndrome, and that he can only stop swearing when singing show tunes. Of course, this is Mongrels, so all of that character development’s gone by the end of the episode. But, although it wasn’t long lasting, it was nice to see the writers give Vince a little more depth.

Eventually, Destiny tricks Nelson into taking her for a walk and is run over by the ambulance that is taking Gary to hospital. Destiny’s heat ends and, with Gary back at the pub, the status quo returns to normal.

The cutaway gags are back in force after last week, with some of the best including Marion living with the cast of Being Human, the reaction of Nelson Mandela’s dog to his return home from prison, and (my personal favourite) Vince as Raoul Moat. Also, this episode’s credits are a rather bittersweet gag as the camera pans over a window full of lost dog signs. Dogs that Nelson and Marion killed during a splendidly over the top Shaun Of The Dead parody.

The only negative point of the episode is the musical number. It’s dull, feels out of place, and lacks the spark of previous songs. It’s an attempt to parody a Rocky Horror song but it fails by the lyrics being too literal and unmemorable, and simply by not being funny.

Episode two is a marked improvement over episode one, and is a definite return to form for the programme. Let’s hope that next week’s episode is of the same quality. Though Danny Dyer is one of the guest stars, so possibly not.

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