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TV That Matters: ‘Mulaney’

By Christina MurphyCOLUMNIST

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Before you continue reading, I would just like to make it clear that I am a huge John Mulaney fan. I’ve followed his stand-up for years, he’s written some of the best characters in recent “Saturday Night Live” history (Stefon) and he has an adorable French bulldog, Petunia, that’s my favorite thing about my Instagram feed. My high expectations for this very talented comedian make his already lack-luster sitcom all the more disappointing. Last Sunday, Fox premiered the pilot of “Mulaney,” a multi-camera sitcom about the life of the young comedian. The persistent laugh track tells me that this show should be funny, but the poor writing and weak cast has convinced me otherwise.

My biggest issue with the show was that a solid majority of the storyline and jokes were recycled from his past stand-up material. In 2012 he released “New In Town,” an hour-long, stand-up comedy special that I think is quite brilliant. Mulaney has a gift for telling stories and extracting comedy from the mundane. He probably has about an hour of material on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” alone. The opening of the show was a reinterpretation of a classic story he tells in “New In Town” about trying to get Xanax from a clinic, but getting a prostate exam from a male nurse in batman scrubs instead. It was frustrating to see jokes I could recite the punch lines to myself, and key details that made the story funny as a stand-up bit were omitted from the show for simplicity’s sake.

Besides the content problem the show has, there are also major character flaws. John comes off as snarky and condescending, making it hard for viewers to sympathize with him as a character. Jane (Nasim Pedrad) is a ridiculous character who plays up the stereotype of all women being a psychotic ex-girlfriend. His other roommate and fellow stand-up comedian, Motif (Seaton Smith), comes up with the catchphrase “Problem B****” but cannot actually figure out a joke surrounding the phrase. Between the repeated use of this catchphrase and Jane’s insane behavior, the pilot episode had surprisingly sexist undertones.

This is unusual coming from Mulaney, a high-waisted man with feminine hips – seriously you should all watch “New In Town” – who is usually very careful about avoiding such stereotypes in his comedy. There’s a character Andre (Zack Pearlman), who has a red beard and is possibly a drug dealer. His purpose in the show is still unclear and seems unnecessary. Lastly, Martin Short plays John’s scatter-brained boss, Lou. Short provides a delightfully over-the-top performance which is a role we’re used to seeing him in. Although Lou’s office is set up exactly as Lorne Michael’s is, I cannot imagine them sharing the same management strategy.

The show is so flawed that people have glazed over the fact that it is an obvious rip off of “Seinfeld.” Turning stand-up material into a storyline may have worked in the ‘90s, long before there was Netflix, YouTube and a whole television network devoted to programming stand-up content. In a painful twist of irony, Mulaney’s jokes are certainly not ‘new in town’ anymore. The show cannot even support these recycled jokes because of the cast – which lacks any sympathetic characters who would realistically not be friends in a context other than in front of a live studio audience.

The show had monumentally low ratings. It did not appear funny enough in promos to draw new fans in and was only a disappointment to those who were familiar with his work already. If the show wants to stick around it needs a lot of work. Storylines need to be kept fresh, the characters need to be less terrible and punchlines need to be less predictable. In fact, the only thing unpredictable about the show was seeing Lorne Michael’s name come up as an executive producer during the end credits.

I will end this review with a message to John Mulaney, because I know for certain he will read this. I’m not mad at you, just disappointed because I know you can do better than “Mulaney.”


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