I remembered when I first heard about John Mulaney making the jump to write and star in his own sitcom – I’ve followed this development since last year. I remembered wondering, “What happened?” and I’m relieved to find that his own brand of comedy is about to find its home.
TV audiences should already be largely familiar with John Mulaney – as a writer for SNL, he worked with Bill Hader to create the infamous Stefon, and he also coincidentally worked closely with Nasim Pedrad on her Ariana Huffington impersonation. Nasim is joining John Mulaney in the jump from sketch comedy to episodic series for Mulaney.
I’ve also been largely familiar with his stand-up comedy act. I happened upon him completely by accident, checking out the NY Comedy Festival one year, and the night I went to see Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak, he emceed the show. The appeal was instant – his brand of comedy is fun and weird, true odd storytelling with no extra frills. One of his most memorable stories definitely got to me, where he discussed messing with a diner by playing “What’s New Pussycat” on repeat on the diner jukebox.
Being this familiar with John Mulaney, you’d think I couldn’t possibly contain my excitement until the slated premiere date of October 5. I checked out the official trailer, and I can’t help but feel a little worried. I have no issue with the premise of the show – I already follow Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project, so watching a comedian work within a fictionalized version of themselves is a totally acceptable premise. Much like 30 Rock and Seinfeld, John Mulaney’s show is actually very autobiographical. Mulaney is a comedian trying to make it big, and gets his first big break writing for a game show host. The show thereby explores what this new development in his life means to him. In Seinfeld style, Mulaney does a small stand-up act within show – spotlight around him, him dressed up in suit. But of course, we get treated to a very traditional multi-cam sitcom style. Mulaney is joined by Pedrad, among others, as his friends and moral support group, including acting legend Elliot Gould. I have total faith that with Elliot Gould and Martin Short (playing the game show host) at his side that there will be some acting and comedy magic at hand. In fact, Mulaney wrote the show with them in mind and Lorne Michaels even helped arrange meetings with the actors, both of whom were impressed as I was with Mulaney’s talent.
But my biggest worry is the traditional style and the live-audience taping. Mulaney has already faced some criticism being too similar to Seinfeld, whom he unabashedly cites inspiration for the show. He has even said he wanted to create his own show in the style of classic sitcoms – hence, the multicam, hence the tapings in front of a live audience. So basically, the show is touting itself as a classic sitcom with a new brand of comedy. I wonder though if that will succeed? I will admit being put off by the laugh track in the trailer – it almost fills every bit of dead air in that trailer alone. Having too much laugh track to guide an audience can tend to work against the favor of the writing. Mulaney has also admitted to learning lessons about writing in this format for the show recently, discussing expanding the world beyond revolving strictly around his titular character. I trust that he infuses his cynical, weird comedy in this traditional format fine, but I worry about the chemistry with his fairly wide ensemble cast. There have even been reports from live taping audience members that some of the chemistry feels forced in the early episode tapings. I know every new sitcom has its hiccups – I myself also critiqued The Mindy Project early on for rocking back and forth on its footing and testing the waters with its ensemble. I am pre-empting my in-season critique simply from the trailer alone. I will say, though, if Mulaney was able to succeed with writing characters and even improvising on the fly for SNL, which obviously tapes in front of a live audience, perhaps he as a writer and comedian is the perfect match to take on the live-studio-audience, multi-cam format.
As someone who loves comedy and enjoys examining it, I hope Mulaney succeeds as a new-ish Seinfeld of this generation.