October 12, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Mulaney”


MULANEY:  Sunday 9:30PM on FOX

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on MULANEY:  John Mulaney (the series creator playing a character with his own name) is a stand-up comic who supports himself by serving as a producer on a comedy game show hosted by egomaniacal, insecure old-timer Lou Cannon (Martin Short).  John’s roommates are college friend Jane (Nasim Pedrad) and fellow stand-up Motif (Seaton Smith), and he has two wacky neighbors, spacey, heavy-set Andre (Zack Pearlman) and gay, Jewish Oscar (Elliott Gould).

Episode 2:  After its terrible pilot, Mulaney decided to go even more Seinfeld-lite in its 2d episode, written by Mulaney and directed by Andy Ackerman.  It would be easy to imagine the central plotline as a Seinfeld episode–John is dating a doula but can’t bear to hear any details of, let alone watch, the process of childbirth–but on Seinfeld it would actually be, you know… funny.  Here there were just sight gags where crowning was discussed while a bald man put on a sweater and where the removal of an old air conditioner from a window was likened, at great length, to a difficult delivery, and every character emitted gasps of horror at the idea of an episiotomy.  The B story was even worse, with Lou Cannon, not having had sex in a while, flirting obnoxiously with every female who crossed his path on the show (he ultimately relieved the pressure with an overweight ex-Marine staffer and made Mulaney watch the homemade video).  The Larry David-ish attempt to mix both stories in the episode’s final minutes (Lou showed up at the birth Mulaney was forced to witness) just made one appreciate the genius of Larry David.  Add a few circumcision jokes courtesy of Gould’s character, and you had the episode.

Despite auspices that include Lorne Michaels as Executive Producer, and Mulaney’s past as a notable SNL writer, there isn’t any part of Mulaney that works.  Mulaney himself is a stiff performer, and the excerpts we see of his stand-up act aren’t any funnier than he is when he’s “acting.”  There’s no chemistry at all between him and his co-stars, who are either anonymous (Smith and Pearlman) or painfully overemphatic (Short and Gould).  Pedrad comes off best, but that’s not much of a prize.  Imitating Seinfeld, one of the most inspired and distinctive sitcoms in history, would be a challenge even for the best of creative teams, and no one fitting that description is working on the labored and witless Mulaney.

FOX, under a previous regime, ordered a supersized 16-episodes of Mulaney, which debuted to dismal ratings despite having Family Guy as a lead-in.  Barring a miracle, the network will soon be wondering what the equivalent with digital video is of burning wood for kindling.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Jerry Seinfeld Should Sue


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."