It’s a streaming jungle, which might explain why Amazon is offering a pair of strange series featuring the stars of “Into the Woods” this weekend: “Mammals,” in which James Corden prepares for life more beyond the night, and “The English,” with Emily Blunt, which gives many prestigious British actors the opportunity to play cowboy.
Both air six episodes, with “The English” structured as a limited series, and “Mammals” paving the way for future seasons, while packing too many twists into their drama format to tell much about what’s going on.
As for “The English,” Blunt’s English aristocrat Cornelia Locke narrates the show thinking back to 1890, when she was led on a mission of revenge in the American West by Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer), a Pawnee quarry. explorer who leaves the army to claim land in Nebraska, before being sidetracked along the way.
A man of few words, Eli speaks in terse tough-guy dialogue, saying things like, “I’ve seen hell and done hell.” However, he and Cornelia are brought together by a tragic event in the past, which takes them through a treacherous country and includes many good actors for relatively short periods, including Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones and Stephen Rea.
Created by Hugo Blick (“The Honorable Woman”), and with Blunt among its producers, the series features gorgeous cloud-flecked skies and wide horizons in what feels like an homage to John Ford’s westerns. But most of these elements (including the aforementioned dialogue) feel thrown together in such a self-conscious, heavy-handed way that it dulls the homage, making it hard to discern who this exercise is intended for, other than creating a television vehicle to carry Blunt’s. marquee name on content-hungry Amazon shelves.
“Mammals” fares a bit better, with Corden’s Jamie and his wife Amandine (“Tyrant’s Melia Kreiling”) expecting a child and seemingly hopelessly in love as the series begins. When tragedy strikes, the grief that follows slowly opens up not just wounds, but secrets, before filling in the blanks again about how the two met and why he might not be entirely inclined to trust her.
Series creator Jez Butterworth (whose credits include “Ford v. Ferrari”) throws in plenty of quirky moments, including singer Tom Jones as, um, Tom Jones. The supporting cast features Sally Hawkins, a classy addition to anything, as Jamie’s sister, although in this case she’s playing a character whose arc feels very peripheral to the central plot.
American audiences may not be entirely familiar with Corden’s television work (he starred on the popular British series “Gavin & Stacey”) before he became the CBS late-night host, while continuing to dabble in musicals like ” The Prom”. Cats” and the aforementioned “Into the Woods.” “Mammals” gives her a chance to show off her acting chops, though the biggest revelation might be Kreiling holding her own.
While both series should help bring attention to Amazon Prime, neither is fully working. The main advantage of “The Englishman” is that it represents a relatively short and tight engagement, while “Mammals” (a poor title, by the way) is a bit more engaging with its ruminations on coping with loss and the vagaries of relationships.
Of course, when it comes to premium television, attracting marketable stars can be half the battle, and Blunt and Corden fit the bill, with the latter contributing a fair amount of unwanted publicity recently for his behavior outside of the screen as patrons of the restaurant.
That said, there probably isn’t enough strictly on their respective merits to lead any of these Amazon shows through the jungle and out of the woods.
“Mammals” and “The English” premiere Nov. 11 on Amazon Prime.