I may be one of a handful of reviewers who say, “Sure, give Mammals a try.” Personally, I appreciate how it avoided a traditional narrative in lieu of, well, a more thematic approach. A casual dip in here, an explanation about what we’ve experienced later. Somehow it worked and I walked away feeling more intrigued by the show than not.
The main theme running through the veins of Amazon’s new six-episode series headlined by James Corden and Melia Kreilling isn’t all that new: relationship, marriage, monogamy. We’ve been here before with countless other on-screen relationships. So, what are we to walk away knowing more about life and love by watching Mammals than what we’ve experienced in other series and movies? Marriage Story immediately comes to mind because of its exceptional execution.
Bottom line: Jez Butterworth, a two-time Olivier and Tony Award-winning scribe, seems to want viewers to appreciate the overall experience of Mammals, rather than get high off it—as if were a cheap thrill. Or, a one-night stand, perhaps.
To that end, suspend your belief about the way you think stories ought to be told and see what happens for yourself when you dive into Mammals. Butterworth has crafted a quirky comedy-drama about the complexities of marriage, where sadness, grief, tension, love, friendship, and deep betrayal, just seem to be costars to other, more ethereal, main stars—fate and magical realism. Although it might take some viewers a while to actually “get” that.
A Different Marriage Story
Mammals tracks the story of Jamie (Corden), a Michelin star chef whose world implodes when he discovers shocking secrets about his pregnant wife, Amandine (Kreilling). Jamie hunts for answers with the help of his brother-in-law Jeff (Colin Morgan). But even that proves to rattle the status quo as Jeff becomes all too aware of the emotional canyon that exists in his marriage to Jamie’s sister Lue (a totally underused Sally Hawkins). As the six episodes progress, Lue gets lost in her own secret fantasy world, but, at least for this reviewer, I suspect Butterworth is attempting to say that maybe the ideal of “true love” itself is just a big fantasy.
Tragic losses happen, forcing Amandine to turn her passion back to violin, which ultimately troubles Jamie. After all, he’s hoping to uncover as much as he can about Amandine’s secrets. As the episodes unravel, we’re briefly taken back in time and discover how Jamie and Amandine actually met, and the “magical” spark that eventually made them want to be together. They’re not the perfect couple, though—or humans for that matter. Flawed, often glib, they seem to be chasing something unattainable.
When the series returns to present day, it tends to stick to its weepy tone, mostly due to Corden. He’s fine, acting-wise, and he has a handle for playing a tortured creature. It’s up to the viewer whether the character is easy to warm up to. At times, I thought, “sure.” Others, I was like, “well, you’re getting on my nerves.” Alas, this is television, and as Corden, who’s experienced his own fair share of curious scandals lately, becomes more frenzied at every turn, you wonder when all the drama may find its well-craved turning point.
In that respect, Mammals did surprise me with its sudden truth bombs. Again, this isn’t a tale with a traditional narrative. When the consequences of all of everybody’s actions come to light, those revelations have the potential to rock both Jamie and Jeff’s families. Is anything what it seems? No. Especially not with the series itself.
Expect The Unexpected
Mammals is directed by Stephanie Laing (Physical, Made For Love). Laing effectively captures the brooding mood throughout the episodes. The attention to facial expressions—frozen looks, weepy eyes—is prominent. Not a bad thing, but for a show that often leans on the ideas of fate and believing in the impossible, it would have been refreshing to have a few more lighthearted moments. We only experience them in the past. Perhaps those could have been extended. After all, it’s always nice to know more about the “happy” people we’re told to root for when trouble is afoot.
A good share of the writing hits the mark, but those familiar with Butterworth’s previous works (“The Ferryman”) may expect more. Don’t overthink it all. One stellar scene, later on, revolves around the idea of monogamy, and it truly stands out. As one character is confronted with the raw truth, he’s told: “Monogamy is a beautiful idea, but you have to admit, it’s pretty f**king hard, right? Asking one man to represent the whole of manhood… He is the man. She is the woman. The only one there will ever be?”
Scenes like that land well and as viewers look back over what they’ve experienced in previous episodes, it’s intended to be an a-ha moment. Overall, Mammals certainly leaves you thinking, and the series’ wild end scene will certainly make for great social media fodder. The series seems to be saying: “Don’t box yourself in. Not so much with marriage, but with yourself. Rise above your own pettiness and beyond your own fantasies.”
Maybe then, Mammals posits, the real fantastical magic begins.
Mammals premieres exclusively on Prime Video on November 11.