[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all “These are reviews.” If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show: “Mulaney” (FOX)
The Pitch: “Remember in the '90s when every great standup comic got a show with their own name? This is one of those!” “So it's 'Seinfeld'?” “Sure. Let's say that. Cuz it's definitely not like any of the 50 bad ones nobody remembers.”
Quick Response: “Mulaney” is an ongoing act-of-faith. NBC believed in “SNL” scribe and standup favorite John Mulaney. And why shouldn't they? He's a FUNNY guy. But they didn't like his “Mulaney” pilot. FOX believed in the cast and basics of “Mulaney,” but did a new pilot and kept shooting stuff. And then ordered even more episodes. And the advertisements for the show don't feature any clips from “Worlds Collide,” the episode that has been made available to critics. So… The bottom line is that “Mulaney” is a long con. If you watch the show starting this fall, you're watching because you assume/believe that by the end of the first season, or maybe even by midseason, “Mulaney” will be the terrific comedy it's destined to be. Guess what? It's not there yet. The episode that FOX has made available isn't even slightly funny. It isn't, however, dreadful. The distinction is in the amount of anger I feel towards “Mulaney,” which is “none.” It happens to just be a bland, unfunny sitcom that hasn't harnessed John Mulaney's voice, hasn't figured out how to utilize his limited acting range (though he's entirely amiable) and sure as heck hasn't figured out how to make use of a high-potential cast that includes Nasim Pedrad, Martin Short, Elliott Gould and A Husky Ginger-Bearded Best Friend (because every show needs one this season). Pedrad has one funny bit that has nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with her ability to craft a goofy-laugh, but she's been written as a flat straight-woman. Short, who Mulaney really should know how to write for from “SNL” experiences, has nothing at all. And if anybody, based on this episode, can figure out what the blazes Gould is doing here — He may be playing the wacky gay neighbor, but I wouldn't bet on it — they're more observant viewers than I. The stand-up/multi-cam format isn't there yet, even if “Seinfeld” set out a pretty reliable template and as it stands, it'll probably frustrate fans of Mulaney's standup, because there's not enough of that and then the sitcom itself isn't harnessing that tone or attitude nearly enough. I can only assume that FOX is seeing some kind of behind-the-scenes evolution (or hoping desperately for some kind of behind-the-scenes evolution) and that we'll eventually see some of the better, later episodes air first (assuming they exist) and the rough, earlier episodes will get scattered throughout the season, probably airing after repeats during slow periods. And I'm kinda OK with that, because the episode I saw relied on a dog-on-a-skateboard for its biggest punchlines and there's absolutely no chance that sort of semi-effective pandering is what Mulaney and company are hoping for long-term.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate-to-high. I watched *nearly* every episode of “Dads” because now-departed FOX exec Kevin Reilly promised it was going to evolve or develop. It didn't and “Dads” got off to a MUCH worse start than “Mulaney.” But I like Mulaney as a writer and a comic (jury's out on Mulaney as an actor) and I'll be pretty tolerant of this. My tolerance is a bit tempered by the press tour revelation that the episode we saw was the fourth episode from the first batch of six. That means I can't blame “early episode jitters” entirely and I can't hope that creative evolution occurred by midway through that early run, because if this is where the show has evolved to after three previous episodes, that's not encouraging. And, worst of all, if FOX had six finished episodes (or even four finished episodes) and this was the one they thought was the best showcase? Hmmm.
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