Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pilot Review: Mulaney

Mulaney (Sundays at 9:30 on Fox)

Remember Seinfeld? Of course you do, it was one of the most popular and most celebrated sitcoms of all time. Fox is hoping that you not only remember it, but that you miss it enough to want to watch another up-and-coming comedian blatantly rip that show off in his own bid for sitcom stardom. Prove to Fox that you're smarter and more discerning than that by skipping this mess.

Just about everything in Mulaney is stolen from Seinfeld. Even going back to the show's journey to the air, the parallels are creepily similar. Seinfeld was passed over by Fox and picked up by NBC; Mulaney was passed over by NBC and picked up by Fox (apparently they didn't want to let this go just in case lightning struck twice). The pilot is directed by Andy Ackerman, who helmed almost every episode of Seinfeld's final four seasons. In terms of the actual show, you have John (playing a possibly fictionalized version of himself, much like Jerry) performing to comedy club crowds as bookends to the episode, and his three friends, one of them a female whose name rhymes with Elaine and another who is always dropping in unannounced. There's a general lack of plot, quite a few eccentric personalities, and a lot of yelling for no reason. Mulaney is a 1990s show on a 2014 schedule, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. The whole concept of a "show about nothing," a moniker often attached Seinfeld that could also apply to a host of bygone comedies about friends who hang out and talk and find themselves in weird situations that they then hang out and talk about, feels very dated now. It's some strange combination of the over-the-top characters and the laugh track that just makes Mulaney awkward.

The show is at its best, which still isn't all that good, when Mulaney is with his friends: Jane (SNL's Nasim Pedrad, easily the best part of the show), Motif (Seaton Smith), and Andre (Zack Pearlman). Then the show taps into that throwback charm and comfort we get from watching reruns of our favorite old shows. It's comfortable when the friends are all together, partly because Smith and Pedrad are both better actors than Mulaney, so they balance out the weirdness he radiates when he's acting as opposed to doing stand-up (though what is up with Pearlman's beard being a totally different color from his hair?). But then the show shifts to scenes with Martin Short as Mulaney's new boss (oh yes, that's one difference between Mulaney and Seinfeld: John has a job other than as a comedian, writing for a game show host), and everything kind of implodes. Short is typically dependable and almost always funny, but he's so out of place doing his usual caricature shtick next to Mulaney's awkward humor and grating monotone that it's hard to watch. Same goes for Oscar nominee Elliott Gould, who plays John's gay formerly radical neighbor. It's a strained, to put it lightly, performance that's so excessively weird that it borders on uncomfortable.

Mulaney is, overall, a timid little show. It's not sure what it wants to be, other than a Seinfeld rip-off (and a self-aware one at that). John Mulaney is an okay stand-up comedian and an okay comedic writer, but he's unmemorable on screen. He has no presence or confidence, and the same could be said of the show itself.

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