While broadcast TV seems more and more of a wasteland to me, I decided to check out a new show on NBC, Mr. Mayor. I’ve been re-watching The Good Place (again; such a good show), and I’ve long been a fan of Ted Danson’s work. When I saw he was in a new comedy I figured it was worth checking out.
I think I’ve mentioned I like to approach new work as uninformed about it as possible (I actively avoid trailers and reviews of things I haven’t seen). So when the first episode began and I saw it was another series from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (who brought us 30 Rock), my interest skyrocketed.
On the other hand, so did my expectations.
Ha, fooled you! Bet you thought I was going to rag on the show and say it didn’t live up to expectations. (Which would generally be a good bet when it comes to broadcast TV.)
But no, I found the show delightful and hysterical. I went on to binge on all four episodes so far. (It’s available on Hulu and, I would imagine, NBC’s unfortunately named Peacock platform.)
I do have some concern it might be too clever and too Los Angeles-Hollywood insider to endure. On the other hand, 30 Rock was extremely clever and also strongly (New York and SNL/NBC) insider, and it did very well (seven seasons). FWIW, I consider 30 Rock one of the best TV shows ever.
That said, I’m seeing it from the perspective of a former Los Angelean and someone trained in TV and film production, and it’s possible shows like this appeal to me more than to the average viewer. (But again, 30 Rock had a successful seven-year run, so who knows.)
I imagine the pitch meeting went something like: “What if a (successful!) business man ran for public office and, against the odds, won?”
One wonders where they came up with an idea like that.
The difference here is, firstly, that Neil Bremer (Ted Danson), a retired billboard magnate (a rags to riches story), was genuinely successful, competent at his job and at life, and a thoroughly good person.
Secondly, Neil, who decides to run solely to impress his daughter (who thinks he’s a do-nothing nobody since mom died and he retired), turns out to be very good at the job (once he starts taking it seriously).
It’s everything P45 could have been (if he wasn’t ignorant, incompetent, and a creature of no morals or character).
The show starts after the election, but we’ve given to understand the former Mayor pretty much broke down and fled under the weight of 2020. (The last straw being the murder hornets invading the city.)
Murder hornets. As with most sitcoms, the show can be a bit slapstick and broad. I prefer comedy that colors inside the lines better, but that’s actually fairly rare in sitcoms (M*A*S*H is my canonical example of an outstanding comedy series that rarely went slapstick or even broad. The show was almost always tight and real. The laughs came from the situations.)
I do credit Fey and Carlock for the lack of blatant gag lines. I’m definitely a fan of their work.
One exception. Back in 2018 (which seems so long ago now) I mentioned Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, an original Netflix show by Fey and Carlock. It starred Ellie Kemper (from The Office), and it was a fun bit of fluff.
The four seasons of the show aren’t the exception; I enjoyed the show.
But then Fey and Carlock jumped on the interactive bandwagon after the “success” of the Black Mirror interactive episode. They produced Kimmy vs. the Reverend, a TV movie that brought back the characters for another round.
I categorically refuse to have anything to do with interactive TV shows, and I despise the idea. (See: Interactive Boloney)
Fortunately, as with 3D TV, it seems an idea viewers, other than the video game besotted and those seeking a new money-making gimmick, have recognized as not a good idea.
One thing I enjoy about Mr. Mayor is the relationship between him and his daughter, Orly — so named because she was conceived there. (The actress, Kyla Kenedy, isn’t a new-comer; she’s been acting since 2011.)
It was his daughter’s disdain over his sitting around doing nothing that egged him into running for mayor. They have a loving and close relationship, which is nice to see (of course, as fraught as any parent-child relationship).
An even bigger enjoyment is Arpi Meskimen (Holly Hunter) who begins (in the first episode) as a city councilwoman of 30 years and major thorn in the side of the city government.
Meskimen is clearly a former hippie (she probably founded and led a commune back in the day). She’s one of those who never really gave up that life style of low consumption, low waste, veganism, and just generally making everyone else feel like they aren’t trying hard enough. She’s constantly fighting for causes.
Once Bremer realizes some of her opposition to him is based on her failed attempt to also run for Mayor — she couldn’t even get enough signatures, so never actually ran a campaign — he promotes her to deputy mayor.
It’s partly keeping your enemies close and partly dangling the prospect of becoming mayor. It’s also (and this is what makes the show worthwhile) a recognition of her value and ability to contribute.
It’s also funny casting. Holly Hunter’s diminutive 5′-2″ to Ted Danson’s 6′-2″ — a foot of distance. (And Hunter’s character isn’t prone to heels.)
Meskimen isn’t exactly Diane to Sam, but I do sense a ‘will they-won’t they’ vibe going on. There’s a scene where Andie MacDowell appears as “herself” (in an episode punningly titled “Brentwood Trash”). Bremer is clearly a bit smitten (he adored her in Greystoke). Meskimen has a problem with this on legitimate grounds, because Bremer needs to say no to her — that the new trash processing facility will indeed be built in Brentwood.
But I sensed Arpi was a bit jealous. How she handles it — the whole scene was a delight. The aftermath of it made me think something may develop between them. They are clearly developing a fondness for each other.
Speaking of public figures appearing as themselves, the show has also so far featured David Spade and Chrissy Teigen. As with MacDowell, they’re playing absurd versions of themselves. (Or at least so I assume.)
And while that was all a lot of fun, it’s also what I mean by insider. I barely know more than Teigen’s name, that she was a model, and that she seems big on social media. I did not recognize her in her first (brief) scene, and it was only her line in her second (also brief) scene that made me realize she must be a known somebody.
In fact, it was the line about her husband that made me realize she was John Legend’s wife (whoever she was). Not that I’m up on John Legend (to be honest, I thought he was a god-awful Jesus Christ). Again, I mostly just know the name and that many think he’s a big deal.
The whole thing makes me wonder what other insider gags I’m missing. That’s the one minor detraction — feeling like I’m not getting all of it.
[To be clear, I’m not opposed to insider storytelling. Niche audiences are entitled to stories told just for them, and niche storytellers are entitled to tell any story that pleases them. It’s just that it’s,… what’s the word,… niche. It ends up being a bit exclusionary to others (which, so what), and that can lead to a lack of success (which is a bigger deal). I’d like to see the show succeed.]
Minor issues not mattering, I give the show two thumbs up and an Ah! rating. I recommend checking it out.
Danson and Hunter are old hands at this, and very comfortable together. The writing is solid and clever and manages to surprise by avoiding easy clichés. The structure and relationships are good.
I’m a bit less thrilled with the three supporting characters in the mayor’s office: Mikaela Shaw (Vella Lovell), his chief of staff and media influencer; Tommy Tomás (Mike Cabellon), his chief strategist, and Jayden Kwapis (Bobby Moynihan), his communications director.
The last one, particularly, is a bit slapstick — kind of channeling the generic Zach Galifianakis character. (I cannot stand Galifiankis; I really can’t. He’s been a major detraction to me in everything he’s been in. I find characters like that far more irritating than funny.)
As advertised, Kwapis’s “bumbling personality hides his street smarts and political instincts.” Because script and clever writers. In real life, people like that are problematic and somehow I can never let go of that.
But that’s just me, and I know people really love the whole Galifianakis schtick and will probably love the Jayden Kwapis character. (Apparently he’s big on SNL, which I haven’t watched in many decades.) I hope they tone him down a bit.
(I do credit the show with having him make the right decision about the speech writer he hired. He may grow on me.)
Stay mayoral, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.