Nicola Ryan reviews the pilot episode of Mammoth, a new BBC One series created by Welsh comedian Mike Bubbins.
Meet Tony Mammoth (Mike Bubbins). Mammoth is a PE teacher living a charmed life in the 1970s – adored by his students, popular with the students’ mums, and with a devoted friend, Roger (Joseph Marcell), as his wingman – all is well in the world until he is swept away by an avalanche while leading a school trip. His body being preserved in the ice, Mammoth is brought back to life 42 years later in the same condition he was four decades prior. Mammoth may look and think the same as he did in the 1970s, but everything around him has changed. Naturally, he must adapt accordingly. Or must he?
The show is created by Welsh comedian, Mike Bubbins, who also serves as the show’s writer and leading man, taking on the role of Tony Mammoth. The pilot is directed by Adam Miller, his success indicating a promising and fruitful collaboration ahead. Just the first few minutes of the pilot are given to Mammoth’s life before the avalanche, with the main bulk of action taking place nine months on from Mammoth’s thawing when he is back at work with his previous employer. Plunged right into the centre of things, Bubbins and Miller cram in a sometimes overwhelming amount of backstory and exposition, the pace thankfully evening out as Mammoth begins to establish routine and an everyday life lived at a more normal pace. Still, this characterisation is crucial to the success of the series, developing the main protagonist into a well-rounded person whose quirks and shenanigans have clear roots and reference points for the audience.
Bubbins is fantastic in the leading role. Sporting a handlebar moustache and leather jacket, Mammoth has an immediate visual impact and it’s obvious that Bubbins is having so much fun with the character – the infectious kind you can’t help enjoying, too. In many ways, Mammoth is a deep and even complex character. He has maintained his confidence as a ladies’ man and is still larger-than-life, his passion for teaching and genuine care for his students very much intact. When one student, Liberty (Darryl Mundoma), shows signs of struggle due to problems at home, Mammoth gives him the help he needs, even going so far as to buy him a brand new kit for his PE lessons. What Bubbins does so well with the character is the encapsulation of every side of Mammoth, from the brash to the endearing.
In support, we have Joseph Marcell as Mammoth’s wingman and best friend, Roger. Marcell is best known for playing Geoffrey Butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and it’s great to see him in a comedic role again. Mammoth has been staying in Roger’s room at a care home as he has been too afraid to move into his house. Roger serves as Mammoth’s link between the familiar past and the alien present – Roger understanding the humour and context of Mammoth’s comments, while also providing a regular reminder to Mammoth that he’s not in the 1970s anymore. The scene in which we first see Roger, it must be noted, is fantastic, the blatant age difference backed up by quick quips and witty remarks made brilliant by Marcell’s impeccable comic timing.
As pilots go, Mammoth comes with a heavy dose of backstory, but it is nonetheless exciting to see where Bubbins will take the character over the full course of the series. From cultural to social changes, Mammoth draws on both the similarities and differences between the 70s and the modern-day, mostly making its home in a nostalgic light-hearted humour rather than overwrought generational tensions. Packed with 70s reference points and a killer soundtrack, Mammoth is a perfect watch for lovers of warm and fuzzy feelings with a few laughs along the way.
The pilot episode is available now on BBC iPlayer.