Three friends — two male and one female — live in New York.
Each episode begins as the show’s title character narrates a theme for the episode through his standup act. Then, the show proceeds to follow the three characters as they maneuver through their personal, romantic and professional lives, guided only by questionable morals and a strict sense of property. No, Fox has not decided to syndicate “Seinfeld” in prime-time on Sunday nights, but rather, has exploited the show’s structure in creating a modern sitcom that strongly resembles the ’90s classic.
John Mulaney broke through from obscure stand-up comedian to network-star this fall, as he acts as the lead actor, head writer and showrunner for his self-named sitcom. The show leans heavily on the clever comic’s stand-up, which is featured at the top of each episode. The audience then follows him as he struggles as a young comic in New York. In the show’s opening episode, the protagonist signs on to be a writer for a celebrated comic and game show host — who is played by Martin Short — in the loud and obnoxious fashion that Short plays every character into which he is cast. Other characters include Mulaney’s two roommates and friends, who provide the secondary story-lines, which run behind Mulaney’s problems.
The show is carried by clever jokes and creative writing. The broad acting and cheap sets serve as a constant reminder that the viewer is watching a sitcom. The single-camera show seems to have consciously sacrificed a semblance of realism for nostalgia for the genre. Jokes are delivered not in crisp, snappy dialogues, but as part of a performance for the audience in the studio and at home.
The characters, like in “Seinfeld,” are not the likeable, stringently-moral characters that grace modern sitcoms. In the show’s first episodes, Mulaney and his friends are consistently pushing the boundaries of what they can get away with within the parameters of social acceptance. They are comically terrible about judging where such parameters lie. Ultimately, the characters’ quick-wit, self-deprecating and embodiment of self-interested tendencies that live in all of us allows the audience to root for them.
Will this show stand the test of time? Will it force us to question the nature of the human condition? The answer to both these question is almost certainly “no.” But in its first three episodes, “Mulaney” has demonstrated an ability to do what “Seinfeld” did: make the viewer laugh while questioning social norms and challenging society. Certainly, “Mulaney” must be penalized in our minds for its lack of originality — it will always be the Monkey’s to “Seinfeld’s” The Beatles. But, hey, the Monkeys have some pretty great songs.