‘Mulaney’ Review: Fox Comedy Gets Off to an Awful Start

The promise of comedian John Mulaney doesn’t quite make it on-screen

“Karma is a bitch. I must have done some really bad things to someone to have to watch four episodes of this,” I thought as I watched the pretty awful pilot for Fox’s new comedy, “Mulaney.”

I can see why there could be high hopes for a sitcom starring the Emmy-winning “Saturday Night Live” writer and late-night talk show darling, John Mulaney. The goods would seem to be there. The problem is they don’t make it on-screen.

“Mulaney” is a semi-autobiographical series, which takes its cues from the comedian’s standup act, which opens each episode a la “Seinfeld.”

John is living with another comedian, the slow on the uptake Motif (Seaton Sift) and the girl who hates everything, Jane (Nasim Pedrad“>Nasim Pedrad). There’s also Andre (Zack Pearlman), the pothead friend who drops in to gape at Jane and fawn over John. In the pilot, John ends up getting a writing job with famous but over the hill comedian Lou Cannon (Martin Short) on his game show.

Also read: John Mulaney Credits Former Fox Chief Kevin Reilly for Fixing His Sitcom

This review would’ve been much harsher had Fox not made four episodes available to press, because the pilot isn’t good on so many levels.

First, Mulaney’s child-man act just doesn’t translate here. He looks so uncomfortable throughout the pilot, over-enunciating each word with a talk-yell approach and stiff movements, which made me uncomfortable too.

The live studio audience is just in your face laughing at the most unfunny, hit the ground with a thud, jokes being thrown left and right by a cast that should know how to deliver their lines better. I mean Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad, I’m looking at you.

The acting is so big on the pilot that subtle things are ignored. For example, while meeting Lou about the job, Lou looks John up and down and says, “You’re a messy little person, aren’t yah?” In fact, John isn’t a mess with his tucked in collar, fitted sweater and ironed jeans. That instantly takes you out of the moment.

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The bright spots of the pilot were found in Elliott Gould‘s Oscar, the gay neighbor who pops in and out to say outrageous things and pass on his sage, if sometimes obtuse, wisdom. And, Lou’s assistant, who has the most deadpan responses to her boss’s antics and is only heard talking on phones and never seen. Thankfully, Oscar is used more on the episodes to come, but sadly the assistant sort of fades away.

OK, so let’s say that you actually tune in to the episodes to follow the pilot – say, a twister arrives at 9:30 on Sundays every week and blacks out every other program but “Mulaney.” You will get a small reward. It gets a bit better.

On the second episode, Mulaney stops yelling his lines and he gets a little more comfortable. You also start to see why he and his roommates can be friends. Short still plays Lou very largely, but you begin to accept that. The show still isn’t very funny, though.

Also read: John Mulaney on Self-Titled Fox Comedy: ‘I Just Watched ‘Seinfeld’ and Copied It’

It doesn’t really get funny until the third episode when John dates a doula and must get over his fear of even talking about what happens during birth, let alone seeing it.

And, then the fourth episode sees the humor jelling when John takes Lou’s advice for getting people to respect him and Jane treats a cat like she would a guy that won’t give her any attention.

In the end, though, I wouldn’t be serving you, the reader, if I told you to hang in there for several episodes. There are better things to watch on Sunday nights and this isn’t making my own DVR cut.

“Mulaney” premieres Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox.