As someone who grew up watching Diane Morgan’s appearances on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, it’s hard to separate her from the persona of Philomena Cunk. Cunk clearly became a phenomenon, going on to host the BBC2 five-part historical mockumentary Cunk on Britain, and Cunk and Other Humans, alongside releasing books under the name. Cunk is hard to describe – she’s curious, she’s brash, and she’s crude in her questioning.
Aside from Cunk, Morgan is possibly best known as playing advertising manager Kath in the Ricky Gervais’ Netflix comedy-drama, After Life. Kath is in many ways reminiscent of Cunk, but it’s not that Morgan is type-cast, rather, this is simply a role that she excels at. However, in both Weekly Wipe and After Life, Morgan’s characters are merely supporting roles, often overshadowed by the bigger stars. Her recent BBC2 release, Mandy, gives Morgan a chance to shine in her own light.
Mandy consists of six short-form episodes. The plots are absurd, but at fifteen minutes per episode, they’re not complicated. Written and directed by Morgan, who plays the titular character, Mandy is very much based on face-value humour, ranging from adult jokes to scatology and simple slapstick.
Mandy, clad in her trademark holographic pink puffer jacket and knee-length boots, is a woman of an indeterminate age with an unknown background and unclear relationships. None of this matters, though – what Mandy lacks in context she more than makes up for in characterisation. Mandy is eccentric, enthusiastic and a compulsive liar. Despite her bad traits, and her rudeness to those around her, Mandy is somehow engaging, and the audience comes to root for this kooky character.
The standalone episodes chronicle notable incidents in Mandy’s life. First episode ‘Jobseeker’ sees her attempts to secure employment, which leads to the death of 17 colleagues after her stint as an Arachnid Control Operative, and the burning down of a chicken restaurant following a comical attempt to smoke while stood on the toilet bowl. Her smoking addiction similarly carves out the plot of ‘Meat’, where a warning from a doctor during a gynaecologist check-up prompts her to stop smoking so that she can achieve her dream of watching the World’s Strongest Man competition in Gateshead in 2030. This, however, isn’t without mishap – her attempts to eat more healthily lead to Mandy making vegetable smoothies flavoured with meat, which isn’t the best thing to bring as an accompaniment while dog-walking.
“Even without a main storyline and a host of side characters, Mandy herself provides more than enough entertainment to keep interest in the show.”
There’s a surprising, underlying sinister tone that runs throughout, bringing to mind Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s fellow BBC2 dark comedy, Inside No. 9. While Mandy does predominantly rely on shallow humour, plotlines of black magic, medicinal black-outs, murder, and even Mandy’s live burial in a coffin, bring out some beautiful elements of dark comedy which get their hilarity from their wickedness. Even without a main storyline and a host of side characters, Mandy herself provides more than enough entertainment to keep interest in the show – she can swallow a tangerine hole, aspires to breed Dobermann Pinschers, likes fried chicken and “eats it most nights”, and even proudly boasts that “I always wash my hands, even when I’ve done a number two”.
While only featuring one other recurring character (Mandy’s best friend and beauty salon owner Lola, played by Michelle Greenidge), the series guest-stars a number of faces recognisable from After Life including Tom Basden, Tony Way and David Bradley. Other appearances include Sean Locke, Michael Spicer, Maxine Peake and Natalie Cassidy, and even cameos from broadcaster Iain Lee and The Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder. Perhaps surprising, however, is the absence of Jon Wilkinson – as well as starring alongside Morgan in After Life, the pair performed sketch sets as Two Episodes of Mash at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2008 to 2010, and hosted a radio show.
Another unexpected highlight of the series was the soundtrack. While second episode ‘Susan Bloody Blower’ revolves around a line dancing endurance competition, necessitating country music, the other episodes feature distinct soundtracks – from the repetition of Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’ as Mandy is buried alive to ‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)’ as Mandy kills spiders clambering over the fruit at Gone Bananas. Even the series’ theme tune is Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’.
Mandy is an impressive endeavour. As someone who never really enjoyed her segments as Philomena Cunk in Weekly Wipe, I didn’t have high hopes – but Mandy is incredibly well written and will undoubtedly have you laughing out loud. Being of such a short format, I hope that the series can be renewed for a second season – it combines the excellent cast of After Life with the dark humour of Inside Number 9, as well as Diane Morgan’s fantastic writing. Mandy, while not perfect, is highly recommended viewing.
Words by Grace Dean