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Mammoth review – this bold sitcom about a man frozen since the 70s is dad jokes galore
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Mammoth review – this bold sitcom about a man frozen since the 70s is dad jokes galore

Mammoth is almost a dad joke writ large. It kicks off with a flashback to a school skiing trip to France in 1979, where medallion-wearing, lady-loving PE teacher Tony Mammoth recklessly launches himself off the side of a mountain. He is soon followed by a catastrophic avalanche. Fifty years later, in a concept that seems to have been concocted just so the in-show newspaper can boast the headline Mammoth No Longer Extinct, Tony is found frozen in the snow and revived. He must now navigate the world of 2024, from the confused perspective of a late-70s unreconstructed male.

Tony walks through modern-day Cardiff noticing modern-day things, such as hoverboards, men carrying babies and people picking up dog poo with little plastic bags. For a fleeting few months, he is world-famous as “the Ice Man”, but then his moment passes and he finds himself right back where he began, teaching PE at secondary school. In a nice nod to a story that every secondary school seems to have had its own version of, the previous teacher is absent, having had a nervous breakdown.

Even though he is technically in his 90s, and hasn’t taught for 50 years, Tony steps in to show 2024’s teenagers what being a real man is all about. It’s fair to say that Tony’s PE is less about meditation and yoga, and more about the type of playground games that got banned at my school.

It is a bit Life on Mars and a bit “classic sitcom”, right down to its period-perfect theme tune. Tony has the body of a 45-year-old man, while his 1979 friends are pushing well into the elderly bracket. “Not like it was back in the day, is it?” says Tony at one point, which is the gist of the whole thing, at least to begin with. He no longer knows the rules of society. He can’t smoke a pipe at school. Modern women don’t like it when he chats them up at all times. He leaves the engine of his Ford Capri running to “keep it warm”. Drink-driving is no longer “fashionable”. There is no longer a woodwork department at the school, which baffles him: “What do you do with the thick kids?”

Sian Gibson, William Thomas, Mike Bubbins, Joseph Marcell and Joel Davison in Mammoth.View image in fullscreen

The first episode, of three, is the sitcom equivalent of a Facebook group about the good old days, drenched in nostalgia for scratchy toilet paper and pink custard, adorned with comments about “health and safety gone mad” and playing out until it got dark without telling your mum where you were. After 20 or so minutes, that joke starts to wear thin, though I do love pub landlord Barry’s dreamy-eyed desire for his pub to serve “exotic drinks from around the world … Gin and tonic. Vodka tonic.” I also like Tony’s glove box filled with different bottles of cologne, labelled for first date, second date and beyond.

Once it gets the pink-custard leanings out of its system and finds a bit of plot, Mammoth becomes more charming. There is a fine line to be skirted by a sitcom of this sort. Go too far in one direction, and it risks tipping into “what’s wrong with paying a pretty lady a compliment?” territory. Go too far in the other direction, and you lose what makes it funny in the first place, or, worse, risk coming across as finger-pointing and uptight.

Created by Paul Doolan and Mike Bubbins, who also stars as Tony, Mammoth has plenty of warmth to see it through any potentially choppy waters. Tony is a nice guy, under the ’tache. He’s open to everyone and everything new, with the exception of charity-muggers and the environment. He might be from the past, and he might think it’s appropriate to use parents’ evening as a proto-speed dating event, but he’s more cuddly oaf than Jim Davidson type. He tries to impress his lesbian boss by talking about Billie Jean King. He wants his old friend Roger to find love in the care home. He wants to be a good family man. He wants to find love, in a world of online app dating. He tries and he fails, but he never stops trying.

Bubbins underplays it in a way that shouldn’t work, but does. Everyone else in Mammoth is going for bold-colours sitcom comedy, while Bubbins is almost understated. I realise that is quite the point to make about a man who spends a lot of time in short-shorts and velour tracksuit tops, but there is something about his brashness, delivered in a minor key, that really lifts it. It is a dad joke, then, but like all decent dad jokes, it knows how to balance a groan with a laugh.

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Source: theguardian.com