John Mulaney’s New in Town is on my stand-up special Mount Rushmore, so it’s a point of some personal interest that the comedian’s new sitcom, Mulaney, makes me want to throw myself off of Mount Rushmore into a pit of venomous snakes. It stinks! (It being both the stinky show itself and the stinky-ness of the show’s stinking.) Many have attributed Mulaney‘s awfulness to its embrace of the multi-cam sitcom format, but my pet theory is that the sitcom fails because the embrace is halfhearted. Sadly, Mulaney occupies a dull, unsettling middle ground, a consequence of its attempt to graft the niche spirit of a single-cam sitcom onto the populist format of the multi-cam. This abandons the viewer to 22-minutes in no man’s land, where he or she is afforded neither the subtly emotional intelligence of show’s like Parks & Rec nor the broader, funny familiarity of Friends. With FOX’s order of the sitcom already shortened from 16 episodes to 13 episodes, is it too late to save Mulaney? Of course not. Here are a few of my suggestions to help the show. Feel free to add your own!
How To Fix Mulaney
Step One: Eliminate the Interstitial Stand-Up Bits
Whereas every episode of Seinfeld famously began with Jerry performing stand-up in a comedy club, Mulaney bizarrely begins with John Mulaney doing stand-up on the darkened set of Mulaney. (So bold, so brash, so Brecht.) Considering that majority of the minority of people who watch this show are already familiar with Mulaney’s stand-up, the inserts rarely delight and mostly derail from the episode’s story.
Step Two: Give Mulaney a Monk’s
Most great multi-cam sitcoms introduce a haunt for its characters to propel story, manage screen time, and save money on sets. HIMYM had McClaren’s, Friends had Central Perk, Seinfeld had Monk’s and Cheers had, well, Cheers. For whatever reason, Mulaney has Mulaney’s nondescript apartment. A considerable amount of the multi-cam draw derives from the comfort and joy of seeing characters manipulate familiar spaces into new zones of interest. Mulaney’s apartment? Not so much.
Step Three: Work-Place Comedy or Domestic Comedy?
Mulaney currently straddles the definitions of work-place sitcom and domestic sitcom by splitting time between Mulaney’s home life and his job at Celebrity You Guessed It! Like the needed introduction of a haunt, until Mulaney devotes itself more fully to either the professional or the domestic, the show will continue to occupy one of its many middle grounds. Either you’re Taxi or you’re The Cosby Show, Mulaney. Make a decision.
Step Four: Kill Some of the Characters
At last count, Mulaney features six central characters, which would be fine if their lives didn’t intersect so tangentially. Friends was able to juggle its six leads because they had clear overlaps in personality and locality. When Mulaney attempts to connect Martin Short to the bearded pot dealer to Elliot Gould, it feels forced, artificial, unlike life. Personally, I’d eliminate Short and Gould, who both deserve better.
Step Five: Kill All of the Characters and Just Have Mulaney watch Seinfeld
A radical suggestion, surely, but wouldn’t it be great to re-watch Seinfeld with Mulaney on death row after he’s killed all of his uninteresting friends? Having watched all four episodes of this debacle, I honestly can’t believe Mulaney hasn’t gone on a killing spree. That said, there’s nine episodes left until cancellation. There’s still hope.