Strong night of comedy last night. Let’s start with the show I usually cover, then briefly touch on two others I don’t.
Mulaney is growing on me. I’m not sure if it’s actually improving so much as I’m just getting used to its awkward rhythm (and make no mistake, this is still very much a multi-cam show that has no business being a multi-cam show), but the utter darkness lying beneath its generic New York sitcom surface is intoxicating. In the second consecutive episode focusing heavily on death- in this case the death of a priest- the show continues to be utterly remorseless in its quest for laughs, and its characters continue to plumb the-I hate to say it, but the right word is Seinfeldian- depths of human selfishness and desperation. Motif’s overwhelming need to be accepted, played for laughs in a one-off bit about John’s mother’s affection for his real name, is positively Constanza-esque and gives the show’s most problematic lead something to build off. Jane’s rabid co-dependence continues to be one of the show’s strongest notes, played here as she endures the terrifying, Andre-esque side effects of a low-rent birth control pill in pursuit of a man. Lou Cannon’s obsessive need for adulation leads to him kissing John’s mother, and John’s deep-seated Catholic guilt and ever-present hypocrisy combine as he torments himself- and others- over a meaningless white lie. Even Andre and Oscar had strong moments this week, and that’s a refreshing change of pace from their usual role as glorified sitcom furniture.
Bottom line: Mulaney is still very much a work in progress, but if you’re the type amused by a character caught praying late at night by insisting that he was actually just masturbating, it’s a show that caters to your (and my) dark, cynical sense of humor.
Elsewhere, one of my all-time favorite shows, Futurama, sort of returned in a crossover with the faded- but still occasionally very funny- Simpsons. Most reviewers seem to be drowning in the ocean of their own expectations, but for what it was- a Simpsons episode with Futurama characters in it- “Simpsorama” was very funny, and spoke to much of what made those shows great in their respective primes. There were perhaps a few too many in-jokes, but that’s the nature of the beast in a setting like this. Ultimately, this show gave me Moe calling Bender “Blade Rummy,” Homer half-heartedly strangling mutant Bart-monsters to death, and the Professor’s unique brand of casual disrespect, while also giving me a par-or-better episode of both The Simpsons and Futurama, and that’s all I really wanted. It’s not Bender’s Big Score or Jurassic Bark by any stretch of the imagination, but it was foolhardy to expect it to be.
Finally, I don’t normally write about Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as it’s not a new show and it’s so consistent that I rarely would have much to say, but this week’s episode was the strongest of the season so far, and perhaps the first to get full mileage out of the entire cast up to and including Scully and Hitchcock. Alan Sepinwall- a much better critic than I am- correctly noted that the show has hit a point where the plot is almost immaterial because the characters are so well-defined and perfectly portrayed that they can make almost any situation funny just by being a party to it. What he didn’t spend a lot of ink on was the subtle maturation of every member of the cast in this very strong episode; from Terry and Jake being able to look past their distaste for defense attorneys, to Rosa putting her instincts aside and supporting Amy (which, granted, has been Rosa’s arc for a while now), to Boyle standing up for himself, and even to Captain Holt letting his guard down just enough to play along on the “why is Amy late” game or risking his career by instigating a pow-wow/haranguing, all of these characters ended this episode somewhere besides where they started, and with a cast of nine characters (ten counting the guest star), that’s no mean feat. Even Scully is able to evolve past his own sandwich lust to champion the cause of a better union rep, albeit that swing was leftover dependent. Excellent, excellent television and it’s a real shame that none of this fall’s sitcoms seem to have anywhere near enough potential to become a show like this, particularly with Selfie and Bad Judge- the two most promising shows, albeit both still with a lot of growing to do- already more or less cancelled.
Dark days for the network sitcom, but at least we’ve still got the Nine-Nine.