Watch a trailer for Mammals starring James Corden
Imagine Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick but repackaged as a dramedy about the complexities of marriage akin to Mike Nichols’ Closer?
In Mammals, Amazon Prime’s newest series starring James Corden, whales emerge from the seas at various points throughout its six short episodes. However, the show wills us to look deeper into and beyond its recurring motif.
With how the concept of marriage has expanded (both in scripted media and in real life), is true marital bliss the great white whale?
Read more: James Corden goes serious in Mammals
Mammals follows the ill-fated story of Jamie (Corden) and his pregnant wife Amandine (Melia Kreiling), who’ve been married for seven years. In a dreamlike opening sequence, we first meet the couple enjoying their “babymoon” by the Cornish seaside with Tom Jones of all people as their next door neighbour.
Within five minutes, their blissful getaway turns into heart-wrenching tragedy when Amandine suffers a miscarriage. Jamie’s world is further shattered when, while she’s recovering at a nearby hospital, he stumbles on a bunch of raunchy texts on her phone from someone named “Paul”. We soon learn that he isn’t the only one.
The rest of Mammals then plays out as a relationship ‘whodunnit’, centering around Jamie’s quest to find out who else has slept with Amandine and why she’s been unfaithful to him. Because of Jamie’s preoccupation with opening a new high-end restaurant, he enlists his best friend Jeff (Colin Morgan) to help him investigate Amandine’s infidelities, unaware that his own marriage to his sister Lue (The Shape of Water’s Sally Hawkins) is also on the rocks.
Given that renowned playwright and screenwriter Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem; Edge of Tomorrow) wrote Mammals with Corden in mind, the latter’s attempt to make an acting comeback by playing a Michelin-starred chef is as coincidental as it is timely.
Despite all the furore over his declining reputation and his recent spats with A-list restaurants, Corden’s presence shouldn’t dissuade anyone from watching Mammals, for he’s a great case study in emasculated husbands trying to figure out what went wrong. Whether it’s gliding through Butterworth’s wry script or engaging in slapstick farce by attacking a gravestone, Corden plays a wounded Jamie with comic pathos. His travails form the backbone of Mammals’ three-hour runtime.
Hawkins also shines as the embittered Lue, whose fractured relationship with Jeff serves as an intriguing subplot that explores ideas about non-physical affairs. Disillusioned with her husband and her isolated existence out in the sticks, Lue gets swept up in a historical fantasy where she imagines herself as a sartorial genius during post-WWI France, becoming Coco Chanel’s hotshot assistant despite getting entangled with her boss’ fiancée.
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Lue’s escapism isn’t as engaging as the main storyline involving Jamie and Amandine, but it’s a thought-provoking B-side that dives into the psyches of unhappy spouses and how they deal with their own melancholy amidst overwhelming ennui.
With the show’s lead quartet being overcome with and driven by intertwining feelings of love, loss, and lust, the comparisons to Mike Nichols' Closer are inevitable. In Mammals though, Butterworth delivers a subversive series that forces us to question long-standing moral and social constructs via each character’s own narrative strands.
Dissecting the emotional complexities in troubled unions has long been a staple of scripted entertainment, but rarely has the subject been handled with such dexterity, where there’s really no one to root for and judgement is non-existent.
In the series’ penultimate episode, Jeff — a travelling academic specialising in animal neurology — tells his audience of students that only 3-5% of them bond with just one mate for life. By contrast, Butterworth explains during the buildup to Mammals’ release that 'a good marriage is the most magical thing'.
While Mammals compels us to look at both sides of the argument, to simply label it as a cynical take on marriage is doing a disservice to one of 2022’s most interesting new series.
It’s not trying to discourage anyone from getting married; rather, it emphasises that love is important, no matter how unstable it is.
Mammals is now available to stream on Prime Video
Watch: Jez Butterworth and James Corden talk Mammals