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‘Mulaney’ Pilot Review: An Awkward Introduction To John Mulaney’s New Sitcom

What’s the difference between Mulaney, and Mulaney’s 2012 standup show, New in Town?

New in Town doesn’t feature Mulaney’s painful attempts at acting.

Like comedians before him helming their own sitcoms though, this is something that will probably smooth itself out. Mulaney’s a natural when he’s got a microphone in hand, and the best scenes of the pilot are the pieces of stand-up that he performs in his living-room-turned-makeshift-stage.

At its worst though, when Mulaney is dragging stunted dialogue out of his standup, and Andre the drug dealing neighbor pops in (someone who needs to find some worth soon, or be cut from the cast), Mulaney seems like a show from an era of television that we all (besides the baby-boomer suck-up CBS) have moved past.

Laugh tracks don’t make or break a show (see: How I Met Your Mother and TBS’s sweet Ground Floor for examples of it working in a modern landscape) but when the jokes don’t move fast enough, it can all get a little bit painful waiting around for the plot to move, and the live audience’s laughter to stop.

That’s not to say that Mulaney doesn’t bring any laughs, though, because its pilot earns quite a few. Most of them are direct lifts from New in Town, or granted when Nasim Pedrad, with the sharpest performance in the show, storms into the different sets continuing to lament her ex-boyfriend.

Pedrad instantly has the kind of presence in the set and over the show that the rest of the cast – Mulaney and his other roommate, Motif (Seaton Smith) – just don’t hold yet. Martin Short is there to carry the show’s material if something good enough can be written for him, but he’s limited by scenes that, so far, begin and end with his interaction with Mulaney. Mulaney’s already exasperated by his job with Short’s Lou Cannon, but it’s hard to truly see the weariness, something that we’re missing out on because of his acting inexperience.

Mulaney’s an awkward show right now, imitating classic ’80s and ’90s sitcoms without much else, but Nasim Pedrad and Elliot Gould as the group’s neighbor are carrying their parts admirably, and when Mulaney’s performing his standup, he suddenly becomes effortless again, something that hopefully begins to transcend through to his acting.

Good standup (including New in Town) are all about introspection and long-form jokes, but Mulaney needs to speed it up, and gain some confidence quickly.

As Lou himself tells Mulaney, in a line that best describes the experience of this pilot: “That sincerity will take you straight to the middle.”

Unfortunately, Mulaney‘s not even at the middle yet, but it’s the pilot of the sitcom, and one that has been worked and reworked since its early days at NBC. Mulaney is halfway promising, but a character like Andre, already, seems symptomatic of what’s dragging this show down. Mulaney‘s promise is there, but it’s drowning, which is sort of how I felt, waiting for that live audience to stop laughing at jokes that I’d already moved past.