Tag Archives: Sitcom

Review, Mammoth, BBC Wales, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The premise of Mammoth is far-fetched. But go along for the ride and this Welsh sitcom doesn’t disappoint. More funfair than theme park, its zaniness takes time to get used to. Once in the flow of Mike Bubbins’ world though, there emerges a strange empathy for his protagonist, resulting in a desire to return for more. It is a shame then that three episodes is all the BBC could muster.

The first episode is a whirlwind narrative. If the task was to squeeze in the life and times of Tony Mammoth in 25 minutes then it succeeds. But not without its fast pace feeling like a rush job. We go from his resurrection on the side of a ski slope, after being buried for 40 years underneath an avalanche of snow, to his reappointment as a PE teacher at Nowlan High School in the blink of an eye. Add in the quirky comedy and it’s possible for all this to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is not until the revelation, at the end of the episode, of Sian Gibson’s doting and overprotective parent as his daughter, that the programme settles and gains traction. Episode two certainly feels more stable even as the humour remains offbeat.

Most of the laughs arise in the dissonance between Mammoth’s 1970s worldview and the liberalisation of a 2020s UK. He is a boozer, pipe-smoker and womaniser, in a world no longer chugging back beers or treating women as objects. He struggles to come to terms with the fact that his boss is not only a woman but a lesbian too. Mali Ann Rees is suitably dismissive as Lucy, despairing in his attempts to connect with out-of-date references and inappropriate behaviour. She is the straight woman to his not-so-wise guy, a partnership that works and even finds slight affection blossoming between them by the end of episode three. Gibson, for her part, delivers an enraged performance opposite Bubbins’ calm exterior which also leads to funny moments filled with fondness. One cannot help feeling for Mammoth even as his views verge from the baffling to the squeamish. In this regard, he follows in the footsteps of other self-absorbed but strangely-lovable male leads, from Glyn Tucker (The Tuckers) to Ben Harper (My Family) and Victor Meldrew (One Foot in the Grave).

For so short a run, this sitcom is awash with verbal and visual tropes. Always playing with the generational difference, it is often the simple exchanges that invite the biggest smiles. The fact that he says “over” at the end of each correspondence at the drive-thru, he gives a pupil “10p [to get] a Marathon from the tuck shop”, and plays music to his class via a tape recorder all add to the ambience with charming effect. Then there’s the playing of “Burn Baby Burn” at his friend Barry’s funeral, giving a rabbit CPR on a wellness retreat, and riding into a café on a horse for daughter Mel’s birthday, that make his world peculiarly comical. It is not without its touching moments though. When fellow friend Roger (Joseph Marcell) poignantly sings the theme tune to Blankety Blank before he scatters Barry’s ashes, the tragedy of the situation is deeply felt, even as it remains absurd.

The ending is a good one, hopefully indicating at the promise of more. For most sitcoms take a while to get going and hit their stride. Mammoth is no different. Mike Bubbins has created a prime candidate for a great British sitcom character. There is enough here to warrant further. It may be odd but it is likably so. Hyperbole at its finest.

Click here to watch the series on BBC iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Series Review, Rybish, S4C by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

When a sitcom gets funnier as the series goes on, you know you’re onto a winner. So it is with Rybish, written by Barry ‘Archie’ Jones. Set in a recycling centre in North-West Wales, it avoids the rookie mistake of focusing primarily on the workplace situation. Instead, Jones develops a cast of well-rounded characters whose idiosyncratic personalities rub up against one another to form the basis of much of Rybish’s hilarity. There may be the odd joke at the setting’s expense, like standing on a ladder in the pouring rain, attempting to get a mobile signal. But Jones unearths most of the comedy gold from the interactions between his characters. It is the people that he has created that make Rybish such a success.

Sion Pritchard

Sion Pritchard is simply brilliant as site manager Clive. He ramps up the sullenness of his character Mark in Tourist Trap to take Clive beyond expressions of mild annoyance whilst tempering his exasperation so that his comments remain witty and teasing rather than scathing and cut-throat. He resembles the best of banter, light-heartedly mocking his colleagues with nicknames and put-downs that lovingly encapsulate their personalities. There is no malice in the man, as some might conclude; rather, he represents the masculine type that struggles to show emotion and masks their insecurities with humour and a certain aloofness.

Meanwhile, Eurwyn (Dyfed Thomas) wears his heart on his sleeve. He is a gentle and kind soul whose sweet nature is in stark contrast to the moody Clive. Whilst the humour created by the latter is often through his witty comments, it is the innocence of Eurwyn that draws laughter from the audience. It is never intended to be cruel however, and Jones ensures that in his script. He presents Eurwyn as a man of great wisdom and knowledge, though the way Thomas emphasises his character’s naivety has the effect of downplaying this. The result is a deeply empathetic portrayal of an archetypal, rather than stereotypical, Welshman who is devoted to his nation’s culture.

Dyfed Thomas

Alongside Clive and Eurwyn sits Nigel (Rhodri Trefor), a young lad who likes to think he’s more important than he actually is. He will often talk the talk but very rarely does he follow through with action. In fact, it is in the incongruity between what he says to camera and then does afterwards that is the source of much comedy. Jones does not simply pour scorn on Nigel however. Like the rest of his characters, he brings complexity through the subtle incision of moments that reflect genuine sentiment and vulnerability. Nigel’s reaction to new arrival Bobbi (Betsan Ceiriog) is one example, with his suspicion of her perhaps wrongly assumed by some to be veiled sexism. But when, in episode five, the ex-manager of the site wanders around making blatantly sexist remarks, Nigel stands with the rest of the crew in opposition. Such action reflects the strong camaraderie between them, of which Bobbi becomes a vital part.

Ceiriog, in her debut television role, is a steady and confident presence onscreen, affording Bobbi a self-assured and strong personality that means she becomes a vital part of the Cefn Cilgwyn family. She does so to the extent that, when it comes time for her to leave in the final episode, their sadness is akin to grief. It is felt so viscerally through the screen that I am already pining to re-join them for another series with the hope that Bobbi comes back. It would not be the same without her.

Betsan Ceiriog

It is very rare that I have felt such strong affection for a group of sitcom characters. I can think of only This Country and Derry Girls as contemporary examples where a similar strength of feeling has existed. The difference is that the characters in Rybish resemble a reality that is within my grasp. Contained in their specifically Welsh foibles, alongside their universally-felt flaws, is a reflection of something (someone) in my real world.

I suspect that the factual aesthetic and naturalistic dialogue also contribute to this sense of familiarity, the effect of which leaves one reflecting on the importance of community. For the concept of community that has been created here is something to behold. Whether a result of the cast and crew’s experience of filming under lockdown restrictions (they were in a bubble together while filming some of the series) or not, the familial-like ties that bind the characters of Rybish together is something to take to heart.

Writer Barry ‘Archie’ Jones has created something in Rybish that is not just memorable but lovable too. The title may be ‘rubbish’ but this sitcom is anything but.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams