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'Mulaney' pilot react: It's only the beginning

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Oct 5, 2014

These days, a sitcom about a standup comedian in New York is, from its very conception, begging to be compared to its predecessors. So many shows with a similar premise have come and gone—some iconic, some decent, some awful—that any retread of that familiar concept is doomed to high expectations and overspeculation. It takes an extremely well-honed comedic voice and a lot of luck to pull off a successful pilot of this kind, and John Mulaney is 50 percent there.


Anyone who has watched an episode of Saturday Night Live in the last six years should be at least vaguely familiar with John Mulaney, he of “Stefon” fame. A slightly smaller crowd is also aware of his standup career, including his most recent—and best—hour, titled New in Town. (This group will feel very at home in this pilot. Maybe even little too at home.)

The show opens with straight standup: Mulaney alone on a stage with a single spot. This episode specifically begins with a bit taken straight out of New in Town, about Mulaney’s discomfort with being an adult male. In his story, Mulaney recounts a time he accidentally chased a woman down a dark subway, because he didn’t realize that he could be seen as a threat. It worked in his standup special, and it works again here.

Then things get a little wonky. The first scene of the pilot is also taken directly from his standup set, but translated to fit a multicam format. The bit, a long, thoughtful, embarrassing story about trying to get a  Xanax prescription, falls flat in execution. Without Mulaney’s skillful, layered storytelling ability to bolster the comedic premise, we’re left with a low-energy reenactment of the iconic joke. It’s a necessary compromise to fit the medium, and the joke is still pretty funny, but it’s hard not to long for the original.


One bonus of the television version of the Xanax bit is the introduction of some new characters for Mulaney to interact with: his roommates Jane (Nasim Pedrad) and Motif (Seaton Smith). In this episode, Jane’s ex-boyfriend calls her crazy, and Motif tries to figure out how to write a joke around the concept of a “Problem Bitch” (not just your average bitch). Both plotlines are reductive and a little bit clichéd (especially Jane’s), but they stay out of the way of the A-story: John’s new job working for famous comedian Lou Cannon, played by Martin Short.

The arc is simple. Mulaney gets a new job—his dream job—working for a famous comedian. But only a week into it, he realizes that the life of a professional comedy writer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that maybe Lou Cannon isn’t really the greatest boss. When he starts to doubt his commitment, he has a spirit-aligning conversation with his sage-like neighbor Oscar (Elliot Gould). In terms of plot structure, it’s pretty standard sitcom fare. But the stuff taken from Mulaney’s real-life standup gives it the touch of surrealism and charm it needs to set it apart. The episode ends with another standup bit, one of John Mulaney’s funniest, in which he likens his childhood self to a 70-year-old gay man (I won’t try to recount it—seriously, you should watch it for yourself).


It sort of comes together cohesively by the end, but the Mulaney pilot may still leave you (especially those of you who have already seen New in Town) a little uninspired. “Fresh” is not a word one could use to describe this show’s pilot episode, but it is definitely a word that can describe John Mulaney the comedian. It may be a rough start, but what sitcom in the history of television has ever had a perfect pilot? Mulaney the person and Mulaney the show both have the advantage of a strong, well-established voice. The show just needs to access it. If Mulaney can do that and also come up with some better storylines for its incredibly gifted cast, it might have a shot at being great.

John Mulaney has earned enough comedy street cred to deserve a season full of growing pains. Hopefully, he won’t need that long to hook us for real.

Mulaney airs Sundays at 9:30/8:30 central on FOX.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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