Review: Mulaney

Just because you are a funny person does not mean you will succeed in your own television show. Comedian and former Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney is learning that the hard way. Even though he co-created the fan-favorite character, Stefon and had a successful run as a stand-up comic with his special title “New In Town”, Mulaney’s leap to television has been a rocky one.

The self-titled Fox comedy is undeniably reminiscent of the likes of Seinfeld, and that isn’t always a bad thing. It’s centered on the everyday life of John Mulaney, a comedian living in an L.A. apartment with his two roommates, Motif (Seaton Smith) and Jane (former SNL member Nasim Pedrad). After getting a brand-new writing job for legendary comedian Lou Cannon (Martin Short), his life gets all the more strange after it is revealed that Cannon is just a little insane, and the show he now works for makes no sense. To make matters weirder, we meet Mulaney’s colorful neighbor, Oscar (Elliott Gould), who seems to always been full of both wisdom and strange life advice.

Even with its similarities, it is unfair to call it a Seinfeld rip-off. Mulaney has enough of a unique vibe to get by as at least semi-original. But what holds it back from being fairly compared to the great Seinfeld is a real lack of funny material. John Mulaney’s sense of humor doesn’t translate well to a sitcom in which he is the star. Mulaney’s jokes may work on the stage, but as a sitcom-based story they just come off as awkward and forced.

Even the opening scene to the pilot is a beat-by-beat retelling of a doctor story he tells as one of his comedy routines. It’s a funny story when told to you as if he were a friend discussing it over dinner, but not as a scene on television.

By starring in the show, John Mulaney himself isn’t doing the program any favors. His talents clearly excel in writing, because his acting feels lazy and uninspired. When I can’t even find you believable in the role as yourself, then maybe it’s time to try a bit harder.

The supporting cast on the other hand is fairly solid. Pedrad and Smith aren’t given much to do, but still remain funny when playing off Mulaney. The standouts for me are certainly Elliott Gould and Martin Short. Short in particular plays the silly version of himself that we all know and love from his SNL days and can without a doubt be named the funniest, most energetic actor on the show.

While it is only three episodes into it’s first season run, the start has been disappointing. I thought being able to see one of my favorite comedians on TV each week would be an event to get excited for, but instead I have to force myself to watch the episodes hoping they will improve.

Fortunately, I have seen a mild improvement in each episode. Mulaney is a talent writer with lots of unlocked potential to produce a memorable show. I will continue to watch out of loyalty to the comic I know to be gifted and hilarious storyteller, but this show doesn’t often enough bite for anyone else to stick with it.