In Netflix, Mascots has found a perfect home. One that permits any viewer to pop on Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary from a comfortable position – or even better – while more productive activities are accomplished. Guest’s Best In Show rehash with costumed mascots meanders more than it entertains, given how laughs don’t incapacitate like we’re used to from such a legend of dry comedy. This is the kind of comedy you can float in-and-out of – like a performance-heavy fever dream – as disillusioned mascot personalities ramble on and on about their lofty, off-color dreams. You will laugh, but the world of Mascots isn’t as quirkily inviting as A Mighty Wind, for example. It’s still funny-ish, yet far from the hopeful home run.
Guest’s latest stars a bevy of big-time mascots who all have dreams of winning their first Fluffy, the official award of the (maybe) soon-to-be televised World Mascot Championship. There’s a massive fist (Chris O’Dowd), a jolly plumber (Christopher Moynihan), an aquatic husband and wife team (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker) – you know, a real who’s who of cheery, living logos. But this year is a special year for the Fluffy awards, because The Gluten Free Channel will be in attendance, evaluating whether a televised awards ceremony would turn a profit in the future. This has Michael Hitchcock’s showrunner in an absolute tizzy, especially when charges of racism and drug abuse threaten certain competitors. It’s the soft-spoken chaos you’d expect, with all the silliness of dancing crowd-hypers. Welcome to the wild world of sports mascots.
Most of Guest’s mainstays return, except for Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy – two recognizable heavy hitters whose witticisms are missed. Newcomers like Chris O’Dowd and Tom Bennett garner mild chuckles, but not with the same mastery of Guest’s signature tone. O’Dowd might have been more of a domineering force, but The Fist is criminally underused when comparing his jokes-that-land ratio to other more hit and miss mascots. Tommy is the bad boy of “sports mascotery” as he likes to call it, which he measures in suspensions and bannings (visual: the fist humping a team-owner’s wife). His championship performance is hands-down the best, mainly because of an entirely-too-long air guitar solo in full Fist getup. Give me a Fist-only spinoff of Tommy’s early years, and I’d be first in line.
Zach Woods and Sarah Baker are newcomers to the world of Guest, and the inexperience shows. Not only are their characters a bit rigid and undercooked – never mix marriage and mascoting – but Woods and Baker do nothing to elevate numbingly expected “dramedy.” Their fights are forced, and Woods’ unfaithful arc frustratingly wastes time on flirtatious boredom without an emotive pulse. Woods knows he’ll get reamed out, yet he still keeps his eyes fixated on passing beauties anyway. While blissfully off-color, Guest’s comedy usually has a dumbfounding and natural feel, yet the situation above is all-too common, as Mascots is marred by half-baked, easy jokes that lack a certain shock, or invested wackiness.
There are highlights here, when Guest’s talents are given ample time to organically mature. Fred Williard is back as a politically incorrect coach who talks a little person’s ear off after not believing his own eyes. Furries end up infiltrating the 8th Mascot Championship, which means Hitchcock has to explain the difference between “yiffing” and “yipping” while a pink bunny victimizes unknowing performers, and Ed Begley Jr. goes into detail about his anatomically correct history-making mascot – Danny the Donkey – which was just textbook overcompensation because of his micropenis (which you’ll hear plenty about). Guest nails a few bullseyes with material more akin to his sharpest wits, but quality spikes the entire board on this one, with a few darts even missing the correct wall (let alone board).
When Christopher Guest is on, he’s on fire. From the largest spectacle (Phil’s entire plumber routine, complete with a midget piece of poo) to the smallest, still significant detail (arguing over the “John Wayne” suit or the “Slim Pickins” downgrade). Mascots is no failure, thanks to a robust handful of quintessential Guest gags – but there’s an unfamiliar flatness this time around. Many mainstays return – Parker Posey (eccentric modern dancer), Jennifer Coolidge (arm candy bimbo), Guest himself (some wackjob named Corky) – but the few who don’t turn up are sadly missed. This is the diet version of Mr. Guest’s work, a slightly-altered, less fulfilling representation of familiar flavors that still (kind of) get the job done – if only there had been more fisting.
Mascots lacks the enthusiasm to uplift a high school pep rally, as Guest's typical dry charms are toned down to easily accessible generics.