Mulaney, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
October 5, 2014, 9:30 p.m. (EST), Fox
From the opening seconds of Mulaney, which features John Mulaney playing a version of himself in the middle of performing his standup routine, it is clear that the show is heavily inspired by sitcom icon Seinfeld. But unlike the show that was famously known to be about nothing, Mulaney seems to throw everything in during its first episode to see what will stick.
Indeed, there appears to be a few shows crammed into this 20+ minutes. The first is Mulaney’s relationship with his roommates: Jane (Nasim Pedrad), who spends the first episode obsessing about her ex, and Motif (Seaton Smith), another standup comic desperate to find some fame. The show then adds a workplace component, focusing on Mulaney’s dynamic with his new boss, game show host Lou Cannon (Martin Short). Short steals the show in his scenes, adding a dose of energy in his role as a loud, narcissistic boss. And then, on top of that, the show seemingly aims to poke fun at the multi-cam sitcom model with its introduction of chubby red-headed drug dealer Andre (Zack Pearlman), who walks in Mulaney’s apartment shouting “It’s Andre!” Once you throw in Elliott Gould’s elderly neighbour, who pops in to dispense some advice for one scene, all the introductions to one-dimensional characters and rapid changes in tone are enough to give the audience some serious whiplash.
Unfortunately, the one constant is Mulaney’s toneless, smug delivery. He spends the majority of the episode acting out his comedy routine to nearly everyone who shares a scene with him. In one of the more egregious examples, he explains why he’s late for a meeting by randomly going on a riff about the potential meaning of an empty, overturned wheelchair with a smirk plastered on his face.
This is not to say that the show doesn’t have any potential. And, to be fair to Mulaney, many classic sitcoms had weak first episodes. As a comedian, Mulaney is clearly talented and the standup portions stand out as one of its highlights. In addition to Short’s performance, Pedrad also has a strong presence even amid cringe-inducing material. However, the most enjoyable bits weren’t the typical loud multi-cam fare, but some of the quieter jokes (referenced in the Roundup) by Pedrad and Gould. This suggests that there’s a seed of a good show somewhere in Mulaney that would probably be better suited for a single-cam format. Instead, it is buried under this attempt to create a traditional multi-cam sitcom (complete with an announcement at the beginning that it’s filmed before a live studio audience) that seems to have a goal of repackaging Seinfeld for a new generation but no clear plan on how to do so.
- “Is that Jon Stewart? I like Jon Stewart,” says Gould’s character when Mulaney tells him he just started a new job with Lou Cannon.
- “God, we’re all just going to die one day,” says Pedrad’s Jane with a serene smile in a fun non-sequitur.
- Between Pedrad’s character spending most of the episode practically stalking her ex and the “Problem Bitch” running joke, Mulaney doesn’t appear too concerned about appealing to women.
- “That sincerity will take you right to the middle,” Cannon tells Mulaney. Although the middle might have been a better place for Mulaney to start than what we got.
Mulaney tries to pack a lot into its first episode but falls flat in its attempt to revive the multi-cam sitcom.