One of Fox’s newest comedies, “Mulaney,” attempts to harken back to the golden age of the multi-camera sitcom. Following a semi-fictitious version of co-creator and star John Mulaney, the show depicts the every-day misgivings and adventures of a young stand up comic and his friends while living in New York City.
Unfortunately for “Mulaney,” this seemingly harmless premise has left the show open to a number of interpretations as a weak attempt to be the next “Seinfeld” or “Friends.” Yet while there are so many obvious similarities, like the wacky friends and the opening stand-up bits, the show is trying to be a singular comedy of its own.
After all, John Mulaney was a former “Saturday Night Live” writer. He has clearly become comfortable in the medium of live television and live performance. Moreover, his second stand-up special, “New In Town,” paid a quick homage to the live sitcom in its opening credits. The number of times he’s referenced or mentioned “The Cosby Show” and other multi-camera shows as sources of inspiration proves that Mulaney is drawn to this kind of format.
Further, the use of the opening stand-up bit cannot only be credited to “Seinfeld.” Louis C.K. has used stand-up as means of opening and transitioning certain scenes in his New York-set show about a semi-fictitious version of himself. If anything, the only reason why “Mulaney” is getting all this flack is because it isn’t good. In fact, it’s really disappointing.
Having known of John Mulaney’s work in the past, I was extremely annoyed to see that he not only reused bits from his former acts, he also edited them and squished them into half-baked storylines. Perhaps if the new format had added some other level of comedy to the bits, it would have worked. Instead it added a weird dimensionality, bringing what was seemingly a very good story into a very weird reality. It was like watching a cover of a band’s greatest hits. The episode would definitely hit the notes, but it didn’t feel right at all.
Moreover, the multi-camera doesn’t work with John Mulaney’s type of humor. What makes John Mulaney’s work so great is that he’s a very anxious man and he’s very good at articulating it. He has a slower cadence when he relays stories, allowing pauses to let the audience consider what he’s doing or what he’s saying. Unfortunately, when you only have 21 minutes to do so in a television show, pauses and slowness are the first things to go.
Perhaps worst of all, “Mulaney” has a weird and warped idea of women. Either the writers have collectively had the worst dating experiences on the planet, or they are collectively the laziest bunch, deciding the “Jeez, women, aren’t they crazy?” trope is still apt in 2014. With only one main female cast member played by former “SNL” player Nasim Pedrad, the show starts with her character literally joking about how she needs to stop reading her ex-boyfriend’s emails and, later, stealing flowers from her ex-boyfriend’s terrace. Even better, another character decides that creating a stand-up bit about “problem bitches” is the best way to get comedy credence. The show dedicates an entire episode to Mulaney’s employer (played by Martin Short) and how funny it is that this middle-aged white man is creepy to young women. Hilarious.
At the very heart of it: this show is half-assed. Characters are poorly drawn. Bits are re-used. Tropes that should be outdated are revived and employed to full effect. There is literally a character named André who is used as a punch line because, apparently, everyone in this show’s universe hates him. Why? Because he is so annoying. That’s the entire joke.
The future of “Mulaney” looks bleak. Overall, the show has been universally panned and Fox has actually cut the show’s original order of 16 episodes down to 13. However, I still have full faith in John Mulaney himself. This was definitely a bad first attempt, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for further improvement.
Sorry, John. Better luck next time.