The idea of an "adult puppet show" appeals because grownups get a kick from seeing emblems of their childhood likewise losing their innocence; swearing, cracking rude jokes, making sexual references, and engaging in violence. Is that adult behaviour? Perhaps BBC3's Mongrels should instead be termed "kidult"; that phase of your life when school's over, the real world beckons, but you still own a few teddy bears.
Mongrels is the brainchild of Adam Miller (who also directs) and tells the debauched tales of five anthropomorphic animals living behind a London pub: Nelson (Rufus Jones), a posh metrosexual fox; preening Afghan hound Destiny (Lucy Montgomery); idiot cat Marion (Dan Tetsell); dissolute fox Vince (Paul Kaye); and a resentful pigeon called Kali (Katy Brand).
Five years in the making, there's definitely a feeling that time and effort has been spent on this production, which was good to see. The puppets were all excellent builds (there's something endearing about Muppet-style critters with wire poles attached to their wrists), and the various storylines felt like they had purpose and direction: Nelson used a laptop for online-dating and found himself matched with a chicken who shared his love of Il Divo; Destiny grappled with the brain-washing effects of a dog obedience class; and Marion operated a scam to fleece elderly owners.
Quite a few of the jokes made me smile, or at the very least appreciate some thought had been exerted, even if too many went for obvious punchlines. The main worry was how the riskier material (like poking fun at Harold Shipman), delivered in Family Guy-style asides, felt a little desperate and outdated. Truth is, if Mongrels' intention is to be subversive, shocking, and become a cult phenomenon, it'll have to be more topical and intelligent with its targeting. Spitting Image churned out weekly satirical half-hours, it would be great if Mongrels could perhaps insert some up-to-the-minute gags.
This opener wasn't anywhere near as filthy and perverse as Peter Jackson's cult 1989 hit Meet The Feebles, feeling more like a standard BBC3 sitcom performed by puppets, that enjoyed the freedoms its art form can provide in terms of story and character. Jokes about cats losing their testicles, fox's peeing into the air, dogs dragging their bums on the floor, a knee's up song about chickens, pigeons flying into closed windows, a celebrity cameo from Toby Anstis (who worked with puppets on kid's TV in the '90s), etc. Good fun, fairly entertaining, and possibly even a grower, but episode 1 was more toothless and crude than I was expecting.
WRITERS: Daniel Peak & Jon Brown
DIRECTOR: Adam Miller
CAST/VOICES: Dan Tetsell (voice), Rufus Jones (voice), Lucy Montgomery (voice), Katy Brand (voice), Paul Kaye (voice) Ruth Bratt (voice), Tony Way, Rita Davies, James Doherty, Joan Linder, Harry Morrison, Jonathan Ryland & Toby Anstis
TRANSMISSION: 22 JUNE 2010 - BBC3, 10PM