John Mulaney is tremendously funny, but this makes his show look…bad.
Comedy fans have been eagerly anticipating Mulaney, the new sitcom from standup comic and writer John Mulaney, ever since the pilot was announced by NBC. Now, almost a year and a half later, the show has moved to Fox, where it has already been picked up for a full season, and the first trailer is out. And it doesn't look good.
As has been pointed out by Time, the show looks like Seinfeld, with Mulaney performing comedy and hanging out in his apartment with his two good friends and his other abrasive friend. You know, like Kramer. An eponymous sitcom about a standup comedian will inevitably be compared to Seinfeld, and some of the best and most successful comedies in recent years, like It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and How I Met Your Mother have a Seinfeld influence, but a direct stylistic imitation is grimly uncreative. And that lack of creativity extends to the most troubling part of the trailer: the jokes just aren't funny enough. A joke about how plastic surgery makes a face inexpressive? A "hey baby"/"don't touch me"/"oookay" bit? A wacky boss? A black ladies' man best friend? John Mulaney is a student of TV history, so he knows what clichés he's using here. Hopefully he plays with them rather than just rehashing them. A throwback-style sitcom doesn't need to have ancient, dusty jokes.
There's been word that part of the reason the show has been in development for so long is that Fox reworked the show to make the characters more "likable," which is code for broadly appealing, which is code for boring. But this is a mistake. The characters on Seinfeld were all terrible people, and that is what made them so funny. As long as the actors have chemistry and charisma, the characters ultimately care about each other, and most importantly, the jokes are funny, the characters will be likable. Sanding the edges off doesn't make them more likable, it just makes them dull.
John Mulaney is the MVC (Most Valuable Comedian) of his generation. His standup is untouchable and he co-created Stefon, arguably SNL's best recurring character in recent memory. He has a cute dog. He's an astounding talent, simultaneously super-polished and old-school while still being authentically charming and personable and also still being weird. He is undoubtedly capable of making an excellent sitcom. But a 1990s CBS-style three-camera laugh-track sitcom is a waste of his ability, if he's not making it his own version of the old form. The rest of the cast is great too: Nasim Pedrad is great on SNL, Seaton Smith is one of the funniest under-the-radar standups in America, and Martin Short is a legend. The funniest thing in the trailer is the gunshot joke, and it's also the closest to Mulaney's standup sensibility. Trailers don't necessarily show what the product will actually be like, and hopefully that's the case here.
Whether or not this show is good, John Mulaney will still be funny. But no one wants to see Fox ruin this for him. Come on, Fox, let Mulaney be great!
Image via 3 Arts Entertainment.