For better or for worse, the inevitable effect of there being a new Tina Fey and Robert Carlock show on the air is that it will always—especially this early into its run—be compared to Fey and Carlock’s other shows. Naturally, that means that Mr. Mayor will always be compared to 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But it also means it will also always be compared to Great News, even though that was actually a Tracey Wigfield project (co-executive produced by Fey and Carlock). Fey and Carlock have a very specific sense of humor and structure that they rely on, which is why you can spot a “Fey and Carlock show” from the jump. Mr. Mayor follows that same sense of humor and structure, from juvenile (but somehow still witty) jokes to an abundance of smash cuts and goofy montages; yet it feels like somewhat of a faint facsimile of the typical Fey and Carlock recipe.
Part of that can be chalked up to growing pains, with the series’ extremely talented cast simply needing to get into a groove before it can hit its stride. The same goes for its extremely talented writing staff. (Speaking of, this week’s episode, “Brentwood Trash,” was written by Sam Means, who also wrote on 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Great News. Not to be confused with musician Sam Means, who was part of The Format, which was also good.)
This early on, an episode like “Brentwood Trash” really exposes those growing pains when it chooses to put the series’ heavy hitters (Ted Danson and Holly Hunter) together in the A-plot, instead of allowing the rest of the cast to benefit from getting to play off of either one. I’d argue that Mr. Mayor’s second episode really benefited from Arpi’s (Hunter) team-up with Vella Lovell’s Mikaela, and in general, the rest of the cast gets some early shine in the eyes of less familiar viewers when they have Danson and Hunter to play off of. (Yes, Lovell proved herself with her work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bobby Moynihan with Saturday Night Live, Kyla Kenedy with Speechless, and comparatively, this is Mike Cabellon’s place to prove himself. But Ted Danson and Holly Hunter are still Ted Danson and Holly Hunter.) But in “Brentwood Trash,” it’s kind of sink or swim for the rest of the cast while Danson and Hunter play off of film and television’s Andie MacDowell, and that’s quite the position for the series to be in just three episodes into its run.
Moynihan’s Jayden falls into the swim category, although it’s possible that this much of his type of character this early on can really backfire. I’m even torn between actually enjoying the character—as he can be too much, though I take nothing away from Moynihan’s performance—and worrying that he doesn’t fit on this show at all. The latter feeling is the result of the way Mr. Mayor presents itself overall, compared to other Fey and Carlock sitcoms, as I have no doubt that Jayden would fit in perfectly on those shows. But while Mr. Mayor certainly started with the absurdity factor one would expect, it comes off like it’s trying not to be “too” weird, at least for Fey and Carlock. And in that attempt to rein in its weirdness, that’s where the question of if Jayden really fits comes in. However, because of Mr. Mayor’s overall approach to storytelling so far, I did find myself not quite sure which way Jayden’s plot to find Mayor Bremer a new speechwriter would go. Would he choose his new best friend Derek, who was so useless that he couldn’t even get nepotism to work for him in Hollywood? Or would he choose someone who was actually qualified for the position? “Isn’t friendship more important than job goodness?” is a solid question to ask. And to speak once more to the power of Danson and Hunter—or in this case, Bremer and Arpi, as the characters with real power here—it’s Arpi’s speech (even if she gets lost in what she’s saying) over the phone to Jayden that has him make the right decision, even if he hates it.
Not quite sink or swim—so, basically struggling not to drown—is the C-plot, with Mikaela, Kenedy’s Orly, and the “high school never ends” thread. This plot could have really benefited from getting more time, because while it works when everything comes to a head (as Orly makes them realize real life is still high school and they spiral as a result), there are basically no major beats before it pivots right into that. Which is especially surprising considering it even becomes an intentional Mean Girls reference. There’s Mikaela giving Orly the obvious advice about how real life isn’t high school, then Orly immediately calls out that it is, due to Mikaela’s cyberbullying and Tommy’s sudden zit on “picture day.” And the latter beat doesn’t work—as opposed to Mikaela’s Liz Lemonian high school history and the other out-of-left-field beat, Las Plasticas—because so far, Tommy is the least fleshed-out character on the show. His best moment in this episode is when he mocks Mikaela for messing things up with Orly at first, but other than that, we only know that he doesn’t like Jayden. But who among them likes Jayden? And why would he not want to intervene to make sure Jayden doesn’t pick an unqualified speechwriter? That second question also speaks to what story Mr. Mayor is trying to tell over (at least) this first season.
With sitcoms, things can grow so far removed from the original premise that it’s even funnier to remember what it once was. (See: Happy Endings.) But while the Mr. Mayor pilot and even the second episode had some edge in the form of the political chess game (and the promise of that dynamic, moving forward) between Mayor Neil Bremer and Arpi Meskimen—in somewhat of a mayoral, Who’s The Boss? situation—that edge is pretty much gone here. Other than the “not!” joke that Arpi hits Bremer with an hour and a half later, that is. But to be perfectly honest, that edge has also felt tentative from moment one, which has been the biggest obvious issue when it comes to the series’ growing pains.
Maybe the lack of edge in Mr. Mayor compared to other Fey and Carlock works can be chalked up to the setting. Because the difference between this and their other shows is obvious: While those other shows could be boiled down to how New York City is weird like this, Mr. Mayor is about how Los Angeles is weird like this. As Fey and Carlock’s work has been so very much “New York,” shifting coasts is a major component to have to get used to with this show—especially when the tone also settles into more of laid back California vibe. And I have no problem with the show’s timing—in terms of politics or the pandemic—but even without current events surrounding it, it feels strange to do a political comedy and have everything feel as laid back as it does here. Especially considering how much franticness and anxiety Fey and Carlock comparatively put into the world of TV production. Even Spin City got that feeling out of this world better than Mr. Mayor has so far. While it makes plenty of sense for Bremer to have this vibe, it doesn’t exactly make sense for the rest of the mayoral staff to as well, especially since they don’t have the same cushion he does. They have their professional moments—in addition to the personal ones, like we see in the “high school never ends” beat—where they’re worried about Bremer eating on camera or getting into a “MAYOR FIGHT” on the LA Metro, but considering how much this could all blow up in their faces, the characters don’t really act that way, even though that’s the most obvious source of comedy here.
Circling back to the original premise of the series, while Arpi’s goal is supposed to be taking the mayoral position once Bremer fails, there is a strong lack of the rest of the staff worrying about that possibility. And instead, in this episode, Arpi helps Bremer work through his long-time crush on Andie MacDowell, instead of letting him dig his own political trash grave.
The titular Brentwood trash plot does, however, succeed in terms of continuing on with Mr. Mayor’s very specific, weirdly Los Angeles perspective. And the show doesn’t do so in a way where it just feels like New York writers mocking Los Angelenos but instead in the way where the writers are very much aware of the actual weirdness of Los Angeles. From the “East Hollywood ‘Community’ ‘Center’” chyron in the pilot to the terribleness of the LA Metro in this episode (which is different from NYC public transportation terribleness)—“Brentwood Trash” then focuses on the fact that something as mundane as town hall meetings in Los Angeles will even have random celebrities give their terrible two cents alongside all the anti-vaxxers and non-famous affluent dunces, especially if you’re on the Westside. (“Westside, best side?” Get outta here.) David Spade, Chrissy Teigen, and Andie MacDowell—all playing exaggerated, asshole versions of themselves—are also just the right level of celebrity for this particular plot.
“Disjointed” might be the best way to describe Mr. Mayor at the moment, and “Brentwood Trash” is the greatest example of that that. The show provides plenty of laughs—or, really, knowing smiles—but it’s still not at a place where it feels more than familiar. This is only episode three though, and seeing if Fey, Carlock, and company will put it all together is part of the fun. And if they don’t, at least we’ll always have Holly Hunter tackling Chrissy Teigen.
- As you may have noticed, I am not Saloni Gajjar. She’s currently unavailable but will be back—I’m simply covering Mr. Mayor for the rest of the month.
- As you may have also noticed, I actually liked the first two episodes of Mr. Mayor much more Saloni did (and more than I did “Brentwood Trash”), especially as I found they were closer to the typical version of that that somewhat-familiar-but-very-surreal world style that Fey and Carlock love to create. As I mentioned, I feel like the show is trying not to be “too” weird though, and “Brentwood Trash” feels less weird than the first two. (The LA Metro antics? Seemed normal to me.)
- This episode has the only moment so far where I got into pandemic panic mode, which was Jayden kissing the sign. Don’t kiss the sign, Jayden!
- I honestly can’t see Andie MacDowell (who tries to pull one over on Bremer by using her sexuality) in anything anymore without thinking about this Onion article.
- Arpi’s dream celebrity is Harvey Milk. Obviously, it could never work: He’s dead.
- As I noted Mikaela’s Liz Lemonian high school history, what hurts more than giving one-half of your best friend necklace to the school nurse… and then seeing it in the trash?
- Mikaela: “Do you want to ditch and go memorize the dance from ‘Toxic’?”
Orly: “I don’t know that that is.” Okay, that really hurt.
- Not to add to the constant “Chrissy Teigen is Actually Funny” chorus, but the tag with her revealing that she comes to town halls to get away from John Legend and his music—because she doesn’t even like music—is pretty funny. As is Arpi tackling her early in the episode, shouting, “You’re not special!”