Mr. Mayor Evaluation: If laughter had been voices, this sitcom would lose in a landslide

In the cinema, January is the traditional rubbish tip for box-office bombs that the studios like to bury and forget. Unfortunately, NBC’s new sitcom Mr. Mayor – debut Thursday, January 7th at 8/7 am; I’ve seen the first two episodes – feels like the TV equivalent of it. It’s a real shame because the combination of Ted Danson in a lead role and Tina Fey behind the scenes should be an easy slam dunk. Instead, the whole company feels half-hearted and half-baked, with a thin concept and a stark lack of laughter.

It explains a lot that Mr. Mayor was originally conceived as a 30-rock spinoff with Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy. As a result, the show plays like a rash paraphrase that doesn’t quite fit. (It looks like we should know who Danson’s retired business tycoon Neil Bremer is, though we don’t.) Of course, Danson has been a dependably charming TV presence for nearly forty years, returning to his days as a bar Sam Malone about cheers. (His cheerfully crazy take on HBO’s Bored to Death deserves a second look, by the way.) But even he can’t save that.

Dansons Neil is the cheerfully unqualified new Los Angeles mayor who is elected on a whim and soon learns the job involves “90 percent photo ops and pet burials.” (Oh, and Mr. Mayor quickly waves the whole global pandemic off by saying, “Dolly Parton bought us all the vaccine.” All right!) The show itself seems as aimless and confused as Neil, and searches in vain for a strong narrative hook to deal with. He’s the mayor and … yeah, that’s all that goes with it.

Of course the premise wouldn’t be that important if the show were to laugh, but Mr. Mayor falls short there, too. Fey and fellow 30 Rock / Kimmy Schmidt alum Robert Carlock serve as co-creators and executive producers, and Mr. Mayor delivers the same relentless pace of punch lines, with jokes coming quickly and angrily. Most, however, land with a thud, with many tired bumps at familiar destinations (Los Angeles, Millennials, social media) and few of them even trigger a slight giggle. The tone is also muddy and seems undecided between Veep’s pitch black cynicism and the serious optimism of Parks and Recreation – so it tries both and doesn’t feel real either. (And after the bloody election year we all just survived, do we need any more political comedy at all at this point? Give us at least a year off.)

I’m tempted to give Mr. Mayor a break because there is such a strong cast – but that makes it worse because these actors deserve better. Holly Hunter plays Arpi, a militant opponent of Neil on LA City Council (“What’s your beef with me?” “No beef. I’m vegan.”), And it’s hard to see an actor as successful as that Hunter carrying case around a folder for a political initiative known by the acronym “PPPORN”. Kyla Kenedy (as Neil’s keen daughter, Orly) and Vella Lovell (as Chief of Staff Mikaela) have proven to be talented performers, but they’re stranded here by the faint handwriting. Meanwhile, SNL alum Bobby Moynihan, who plays clumsy, sad sacking Jayden, saddled with prescription flip-flops, feels like a stale rip off from Parks and Rec punching bag Jerry.

In the second episode, Mr. Mayor already uses bad toupee jokes and the above-mentioned debacle “PPPORN”. (Really, no one in town hall hoisted a red flag over it?) Even a sure winner like Ted Danson, stoned on weed gummy bears, kind of falls flat. (For some reason he’s fighting a hockey mascot.) Again, the actors seem almost resigned. Maybe they know they are tied to a lost cause. The only salvation is knowing that everyone involved will participate in more rewarding projects. The sooner this term ends, the better.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Despite having a fantastic pedigree and Ted Danson at the helm, Mr. Mayor falls flat with a thin concept and very few laughs.

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