ATX: Will Mulaney Elevate the Concept of Multi-Cam?

Mulaney (Photo: Matthias Clamer / Fox)
Mulaney (Photo: Matthias Clamer / Fox)

The Austin Television Experience ended Sunday with a sneak preview of the pilot for Fox’s upcoming multi-cam comedy Mulaney.

The Blurb

Multi-camera comedy Mulaney stars Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian John Mulaney (Saturday Night Live) as a rising stand-up comic trying to take his career to the next level, along with the friends and mentors who lift him up, hold him back and push him around. “In Worlds Collide,” John regrets mixing his two worlds when Lou (Martin Short) hires Jane (Nasim Pedrad) to be his consultant. Motif (Seaton Smith) works on getting his comedy back when John outs him for having lied about his past.

The Screening

This pilot is a tough sell. The show opens as an homage to Seinfeld, with Mulaney (the comedian) delivering a set with topics related to what is about to happen in the episode. It then turns into your standard multi-cam setup/punchline/overwhelming laugh track cycle. Although the jokes aren’t (solely) about sex and putting down others, there isn’t exactly a fresh point of view either. Martin Short is doing his schtick, the black best friend/fellow standup does “black” comedy, and Elliot Gould plays a caricature of a gay man that would cause Jack McFarland to say “queen, turn it down a notch.” The acts were a series of diminished returns, which is disappointing given Mulaney’s strength as a standup and former Saturday Night Live writer.

The Panel

Todd VanDerWerff from the AV Club moderated the panel which featured Mulaney, Pedrad, Smith, and one of the producers (he didn’t say much). Mulaney copped to not being an experienced actor, which was evident in the pilot—he was stiff, didn’t work with levels, and there was not much inflection in his delivery. Mulaney was quick to praise his co-stars, who did a good job of carrying scenes even if the writing wasn’t spot on. An odd moment occurred when VanDerWerff assured the audience that the series was performed in front of a studio audience, as if he were apologizing for the overly canned laughter.1

What I thought was going to happen with the show was that Mulaney would do his opening jokes—which he delivered on a darkened stage/set—and then the set behind him would light up and the action would commence. The show would be live-to-tape, almost reminiscent of Fox’s ’90s comedy Roc. Mulaney himself described the opening bit as his version of the stage manager of Our Town, joking that Fox did not want him marketing the show as “remember that play you hated in high school?”

The Experience

It’s a shame, though perhaps appropriate, that this problematic pilot served as the bookend to the Austin Television Experience. Unlike Legends (the other bookend), there is not enough to entice me to check out more of the show until after it completes its first six episodes. This pilot was the fourth to be shot, but the character/caricature problems need to be fixed. I’m not a Martin Short fan and found myself consciously deciding to look past that and give the show a chance, but Elliot Gould’s character shows that Fox continues to struggle with the concept of gay people.

  1. Which is ironic, given that the catalyst for the pilot’s action involved Jane using her fake laugh to line up work with Lou.  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles

Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it “TV Camp.” After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv