Q.V. Hough

Making Sense of the ‘Mulaney’ Halloween Episode

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The Sunday night FOX comedy Mulaney may be only three episodes in, but already I’m considering the unthinkable: walking away from comics John Mulaney, Martin Short and Nasim Pedrad. It’s not that I want to, Mulaney. I only want to laugh. I want to be able to pull away from NBC Sunday Night Football for 30 minutes and not have to think twice about it. I don’t want to save you for Monday morning HuluPlus sessions, Mulaney, but you’ve left me no choice after last week’s troubling Halloween episode appropriately titled “Halloween.”

Here’s the problem: The aesthetics of Mulaney mirror Seinfeld way too much, especially during the Halloween episode. Was this an inside joke amongst the Mulaney crew? “Hey, let’s be Seinfeld even more than we usually are this week!” No, Mulaney, no. Find your own identity. Embrace Nasim. Find a way to make Seaton Smith’s Motif relevant. Don’t rely on the homage factor as much as you do.

Last Sunday, Halloween instantly caught my attention, but only because of Elliot Gould’s remarkable likeness to Sam Waterston’s D.A. Jack McCoy from NBC’s Law & Order. Another NBC inside joke? If so, brilliant. Just like Ice-T’s opening voice over, “Mulaney was filmed in front of a live studio audience.” Fans of Mulaney’s stand-up routine will get the joke, which is another NBC reference, as the comic performs a bit about Ice-T’s character from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Ok, now I’m freaking out. Is John Mulaney a crazy, NBC genius — on FOX?

The inherent problem with “Halloween” is the “written” factor. By “written,” I mean that Smith’s delivery of “I was having sex with a girl last night” sounds written. It sounds rehearsed. In fact, Motif only seems necessary because of his strong clothing game. And why did he choose to show his roommate, Mulaney, a video of himself masturbating? Are we supposed to laugh because a ghost was involved? Ah, it’s Halloween so it all makes sense. Just like Mulaney frantically searching for his elderly, deceased neighbor’s jokes and deciding to hold a ouija board session with Motif. It’s the Halloween episode, remember?! Viewers were even treated to a patch of dirt on Mulaney’s cheek after he visited a graveyard…because it’s the Halloween episode. Ha-ha. Cute-cute. Mulaney likes to guide the viewers along in case they don’t understand such things. The writers also adhere to the classic stand-up tactic of introducing a joke halfway through and then returning to it during the final seconds. Unfortunately, a taped recording for television doesn’t quite have the same effect as a live stand-up routine.

Even though Mulaney’s characters appear to be mystical twins of Seinfeld characters, the Halloween episode did produce one memorable moment: Nasim Pedrad’s musical dance throughout her deceased neighbor’s apartment. Sure, the “next door neighbor” plot device reminds of both Seinfeld AND Friends, however Pedrad nailed the performance and she’s a joy to watch. Incidentally, Short’s Lou Cannon also brought the laughs, despite Mulaney’s odd behavior as his oblivious writer. It all probably makes perfect sense for couch potatoes unfamiliar with the exemplary writing of programs such as Louie, but unfortunately little stands out thus far in Mulaney as “smart.”

Take some chances, Mulaney. Make us think.

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