If You Loved 'Best in Show,' You'll Think 'Mascots' Is Fine

If you liked master mockumentary maker Christopher Guest's jokes the first time, you'll probably still like them here.

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Oct 17 2016, 2:13pm

In theory, a group of mascots competing for the "Gold Fluffy" award at the World Mascot Association Championships is primed for the Christopher Guest mockumentary treatment. Like the subjects of Guest's other comedies, mascots make up a strange little subculture with lots of opportunities for quirk and conflict. Unsurprisingly, Mascots is most reminiscent of Guest's earlier film Best in Show, yet it doesn't feel quite as memorable or funny. These are familiar beats; there aren't really any jokes in Mascots that you can't already find in Guest's filmography, though if you liked them there, you'll still probably like them here.

Mascots, for the most part, is just a gentle rehashing of Guest's best works: the exploration of a strange pocket in the world, the immense earnestness that often leads to sadness, the competitive nature (and the ridiculousness of watching people compete for something that means nothing), the usual cast (Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Guest reprising his role as Corky St. Clair, etc.), and the semi-improvisational nature. This makes Mascots easily watchable for Guest fans—and I assume the majority of audiences checking it out on Netflix will already be established Guest fans—though it will likely be a bit of disappointment, almost as though something's missing.

The central plot, as it were, of Mascots concerns a select group of mascots (both solo and duos) as they prepare for the eighth annual competition. Among those are an aging dancer looking for one last shot at glory as Alvin the Armadillo (Parker Posey); a bickering married couple (Sarah Baker and Zach Woods, the newcomer who most effortlessly fits into Guest's mockumentary world) whose personal issues seep into their mascot performances; and Tommy "Zook" Zucarello (Chris O'Dowd, who headed up Guest's mostly disappointing HBO series Family Tree), an overly aggro man performing as an overly aggro giant fist. Fans and judges fit into the world, too, but it's the mascots who are the prime focus. In fact, this creates an interesting—and welcome—contrast with the "real" world of mascots, the people who are normally hidden behind large costumes, who perform for little fanfare or accolades, and then shuffle away without us ever knowing how their names are now front and center in Mascots. (In a way, Mascots can be seen as the fictional, exaggerated version of Hulu's Behind the Mask docuseries.) Mascots enthusiastically showcases these people, alternating between celebrating and pitying them, but mostly focused on the often sad reasons why these mascots are mascots.

Predictably for a Guest mockumentary, the best and funniest moments are when the characters reveal just a bit too much about themselves, when they try to say something upbeat but a hint of sadness or confusion bleeds through. As always, Guest treats this subculture with a form of care: It's clear that there's a lot to laugh at, but they are still humans, trying to make something out of an occupation that is never thought of. But, of course, there are still plenty of funny sequences. Some that stand out include Ed Begley Jr.'s deadpan delivery when discussing his micropenis (ahem, "phallically challenged"), and a mascot showing up to a performance only to realize he is supposed to entertain an auditorium full of blind children. The easiest laughs come from fully costumed mascots performing ordinary tasks: using the bathroom, or dealing with a police officer. But all of this is broad, and sometimes phoned-in, as if there were better takes out there we could have gotten.

Yet Mascots coasts along on the strength of its actors (Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, and John Michael Higgins all show up) and the charm that is a mainstay of all Guest mockumentaries, regardless of quality. When it starts to sag in the second act, Mascots pumps back up the energy with the actual mascot competition. The choreography is a lot more stunning than you'd expect from oversize costumes, and it's actually a fascinating watch—and surprisingly tense at times. Yet none of the characters have been fully fleshed-out and explored enough to find us rooting for a particular one at the end. The mascots are fun but fleeting; the competition is enjoyable but ultimately not one you're likely to watch again.

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Mascots is currently streaming on Netflix.