James Walton

Danny Dyer’s new C4 programme is deeply odd

Plus: Mammoth is a sitcom that’s off to an unusually accomplished start

One of the many random scenes featured in Channel 4's Danny Dyer: How to be a Man

Who do you think said the following on TV this week: ‘I love being around gay men – seeing a group of men expressing themselves the way they do is beautiful’? The answer, perhaps unexpectedly, is Danny Dyer, whose admittedly convincing schtick as the world’s most Cockney bloke was applied to the question of contemporary masculinity in a new programme for Channel 4. The result was a deeply odd mix of the touching, the illuminating, the silly, the thought-provoking, the cheerfully comic, the pensive and the completely confusing.

At first, it looked as if the cheerfully comic would predominate. Danny Dyer: How to Be a Man opened with Danny showing us around his man cave and breezily announcing that ‘Channel 4 bunged me a few quid to travel the country talking to geezers’. Before long, though, he set his brow to troubled and wondered if all the current talk of ‘toxic masculinity’ means ‘there’s now a war on men’.

As unoriginal premises go, this is a pretty sturdy one

His investigations began near his ‘old gaff’ in east London where he met his brother Tony who, to their father’s disgust, had preferred dolls to football. (‘Never in a million years would I have had the balls to pick up a doll,’ said Danny, admiringly.) Next came Ed, an online influencer who operates out of his parents’ garage in Essex and who obligingly provided some unhinged misogyny aimed at teenage boys.

To his credit, Danny didn’t waste much time on Ed, wondering only if he really believes what he spouts for money. He did worry, however, that voices like this are filling a void where more considered discussions of masculinity ought to be. After all, there seems a surprising lack of concern, even curiosity, about what might lie behind the statistics on male suicide and untreated mental illness.

And with that, the programme moved on to institutional bias in child custody cases, and to male victims of domestic violence – 29 per cent of the total number, apparently – whose complaints to the police have been known to elicit the response that they ‘should grow a pair’. (‘What does that mean?’ asked Danny reasonably. ‘That they should go home and give her a clump?’)

How should men respond to all this – especially as the concept of ‘male privilege’ appears so unshakeable? Unfortunately, it was here that the confusion set in. At various points, Danny argued that men should ‘open up’ more and that their unwillingness to open up should be respected, even admired; that their role as providers and protectors should continue to be valued and that it’s badly outdated; that traditional masculinity is ‘hard-wired’ into geezers everywhere and that it’s been mistakenly drummed into them by previous generations.

For my money, the programme definitely proved its central thesis about the general uncertainty surrounding maleness nowadays. It’s just that quite often the proof seemed inadvertent.

Meanwhile, the individual scenes became more random too. Along the way, we got boxing, go-karting, blokes in an ice bath, a guy in a dress, Danny in a flowery boiler suit, fathers hanging out with their children in a soft-play area that also served lager, a visit to a sex dungeon and men sharing their feelings while sitting around a fire – all of which were put forward as a celebration of ‘what we really are’. By the end, in fact, this had become so random that it seemed like a straight gender swap of that well-known headline in the American satirical magazine the Onion: ‘Women now empowered by everything a woman does.’

Anybody who’s seen Austin Powers or Life on Mars will realise that the premise of the new sitcom Mammoth is not a particularly original one. On a school skiing trip in 1979, a portly, middle-aged PE teacher is killed in an avalanche, his body is preserved in the ice and he’s revived in 2024. Luckily, as unoriginal premises go, this is a pretty sturdy one – and the first episode did the format full justice.

As you might imagine, Tony Mammoth is a track-suited, Ford Capri driver, not much given to Danny Dyer-style agonising about masculinity. Somewhat improbably back in his old job, he duly lit up his pipe indoors, baffled his pupils with references to O-levels and looked forward to pulling a single mother or two at parents’ evening. He was also shocked to discover that the woodwork department had closed (‘What do you do with the thick kids?’) and that his Jimmy Savile impersonation no longer met with universal approval.

The programme’s creator and co-writer Mike Bubbins plays Mammoth with just the right level of unearned self-confidence, interspersed with winningly clumsy attempts to adapt to his new world. Add to that a strong supporting cast and a proper closing twist, which suggests that Mammoth will develop even more heart from here, and you’ve got a sitcom that’s off to an unusually accomplished start.