Sunday, October 19, 2014

TV: Lorne sinks as Casey rises

In its first five minutes Tuesday, NBC's Marry Me earned more laughs than Fox's Mulaney has in its first four episodes (the third of which airs tonight).

Pretty much everything that could go wrong with Mulaney has.

The sole bright spot is Elliott Gould's performance as Oscar.  Everything else is pretty much a disaster.

This not limited to Martin Short blasting away at full range in a one-note role as John Mulaney's boss Lou Cannon, a game show host that seems to be the latest volley in Lorne Michaels' never ending grudge match against Bill Cosby.

Lorne Michaels.

The man who, these days, seems determined to prove just how out of touch and unfunny a 70-year-old man (next month) can be.  It wasn't enough that he destroyed Weekend Update this fall, he also had to serve up Mulaney.

Mulaney is supposed to be a new sitcom starring comedian John Mulaney playing a character with the same name who has two wacky men hanging around as well as one cynical and bitter female and each episode mixes in bits of Mulaney doing stand up.  If it all sounds strangely familiar then, like millions of people, you've already seen this on the 90s classic Seinfeld.

Yes, the best Lorne can offer in 2014 is an obvious copy of Seinfeld although in a daring, if questionable move, Lorne's decided to leave out the laughs and humor.

Which leaves John Mulaney standing around looking awkward throughout most episodes.

Mulaney endures one humiliation after another as every joke lands with a thud.

He's a funny comedian and with a James Burrows or Susan Harris, he'd probably be delivering a career making performance but, with Lorne overseeing things, John Mulaney's suffering the biggest career setback since Margaret Cho did American Girl.

How bad is it?

So bad that it's on Fox.

Fox does have one of the funniest sitcoms on TV, The Mindy Project, so we're not trying to say everything on Fox today is garbage.  But we are saying Lorne Michaels' new sitcom is so bad that NBC took a pass.  NBC which wrongly believes Saturday Night Live cannot survive without him, NBC which thought he could save Thursday nights with thirty minute episodes of Saturday Night Live (he couldn't and he didn't), NBC which airs old Saturday Night Live episodes in the last hour of prime time on Saturdays, NBC which constantly allows Lorne to repackage old (and tired) bits and clips into 'specials' that most of America elects to avoid, NBC which let him destroy the season one funny sitcom Up All Night and would have allowed him to further destroy it had Christina Appelgate not walked when Lorne had no 'ideas' on how to improve the show.

That NBC, that network, passed on Mulaney but Fox grabbed it.

Even so, Fox has already tossed the hot potato into the air and announced that the thirteen episodes filmed are sufficient and there will be no fourteenth one.

It really is a shame because John is a funny stand up and he should have had a funny show to present him.  Instead, he was offered a tired Seinfeld retread with a premise no one could believe and, no one seemed to notice, at work his character seemed both younger than the actor while, in every scene not on the game show set,  Mulaney appeared to be playing a forty-something character.

We're not saying comedy's not an old man's game but we are saying it's not a Lorne Michaels' game.

Maybe the world just belongs to Casey Wilson anyway?

If so, what a great moment of karma since Wilson was never appreciated by Lorne Michaels when she was on Saturday Night Live -- but few women have been.

Wilson went on to greater fame playing Penny on the only hilarious sitcom ABC's offered in the last twenty or so years.  Happy Endings was bust a gut funny with jokes whizzing by at a dizzying rate.  Modern Family, by contrast, has always treated its middle aged audience as though they were at a bus stop and a funny moment was arriving every 11 or so minutes.

Wilson was one of six actors in the ensemble cast which also included Adam Pally, Damon Wayans Jr., Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert and Zachary Kingston.  By season three, the show delivered a giddy high on whatever night ABC was airing it that week (they truly were determined to kill off the show) and it was the best thing on TV.

Since then, Pally's landed a gig as Peter on The Mindy Project where he delivers laughs consistently while the rest of the cast has been far less fortunate.  Take Coupe who was so delicious as the determined and in control Jane but now is stuck playing the unfunny ex-wife on the very sad CBS 'comedy' The Millers.

Wilson's working with Happy Endings producer David Caspe on Marry Me and her character Annie is tailor made for Wilson.  The series opened with Annie and Jake returning from a Mexican getaway and Jake lying that he wanted to take a nap which, after six years of dating, sent Annie into a verbal nose dive as she stormed around the kitchen and living room letting loose on all she had endured -- including painting her toe nails in a unisex bathroom -- and still no proposal.

It was comedy gold and that's setting aside the fact that Jake was trying to propose and that their family and friends were hearing Annie's entire rant from the bedroom where they were hiding.

It was comedy gold and that's setting aside Ken Marino.

But let's not set him aside because we love the big guy.

Marino's a good looking man.

How telling that NBC only comes calling when he's good looking.

The movie studios may have known how to turn a gorgeous Cary Grant into a star but the TV networks forever need an average looking man to get behind.

Ken's still not average but the years let NBC overlook that.

(If you're not getting how good looks opposed the network is, Jake is saddled with an overweight male best friend who also has a beard that would make ZZ Top do a double take.)

And as they overlook his good looks, he finally gets a chance to really strut his comedy chops in a way that only Yahoo (Burning Love) has allowed him to do before.

Marry Me is a winner.  Clearly the best sitcom of the fall season.

And maybe it's airing on NBC means something?

For most of the 80s and all of the 90s, NBC had the funniest sitcoms:  Cheers, Gimmie A Break (especially that show's middle period), The Duck Factory, Mad About You, Friends, Seinfeld and Will & Grace made America laugh out loud.  By the '00s, Will & Grace was the last sitcom standing on the network now populated with 'ironic' 'comedies' like My Name Is Earl where it was funny because poor people are so stupid, right?  No, it wasn't funny for that reason and it wasn't funny for any reason.  But a bunch of bad half-hours destroyed the night that Bill Cosby built.

NBC became the network that destroyed the sitcom with 'whimsical' replacing funny.  Yet now it has the funniest show on TV.

Which is both thrilling and nerve-racking.

Thrilling because there's once again a must-see sitcom.

Nerve-racking because it's NBC.  The network that last fall served up a new crops of series and they all revolved around . . . men.

NBC, the network with a hit in The Mysteries of Laura.

"Do you know how strongly the show is performing in Saturday reairings?"

Reairings are repeats.  But NBC doesn't like to admit that they can't program a full week anymore.

And the comment was made Monday, over the phone, by a vice president at the network who was thanking us for noting how strong the show was again.

And we replied, no, we didn't know how strong the show was performing in repeats but how sad that NBC, the network, wasn't making a point to issue a news release promoting that fact.

Yes, The Mysteries of Laura is a success.  That's despite it receiving some of the most vile and sexist reviews of any show this season (so far).  And unlike so many other NBC offerings, male led offerings where the show comes quickly and the audience begins departing, Debra Messing's series is retaining its audience week after week.

That's a TV miracle.

Once upon a time, it was an expected event and failure to do so got you the axe.  But these days, a Following, for example, craters throughout the season but still gets renewed.

Debra, who audiences embraced when she starred in Will & Grace, is back doing comedy with a mystery twist and, again, audiences are embracing her.

And we don't mind noting that (we're thrilled for Debra) but we do have to wonder why we're the ones who seem to be promoting the show and not the network?

Even now, NBC is acting as if the thick-tongued and two-left-footed About A Boy is the bigger deal than Marry Me.  Even now, NBC has no idea what they have in Wilson and Marino.

People who've watched get it.  And if you haven't watched yet but loved Wilson on Happy Endings, here's another reason to catch the show.  Two Tuesdays from now, Stephen Guarino shows up for the Halloween episode and, yes, he's playing his Happy Ending's character Derrick.

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