Politics As Unusual
Ted Danson & Tina Fey Together for Mr. Mayor
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, one of the nicer side effects of Peak TV has been watching Ted Danson completely reinvent himself. From the cutthroat industrialist on Damages to the beacon of goodness on Fargo to his incredible work as Michael on the just completed The Good Place, he has revealed more depths than you could’ve imagined. So it would seem that seeing him take the title role on NBC’s new comedy series Mr. Mayor playing a wealthy conservative who becomes the mayor of Los Angeles in the work of that comic masterminds Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (who brought us the incredible 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) would be an instant classic. And it’s not…yet.
To be sure, all of the elements that made Carlock’s and Fey’s earlier works are there. The series starts with what appears to be one of those classic walk and talk scenes from The West Wing which is instantly popped when the Mayor says: “You do know I’m lost, right?” and his staff immediately corrects him. Neil Bremer seems as deluded as so many of the character’s of Fey’s work especially as we see how he became Mayor in the first place. And the writers, who mined some of their biggest laughs about the flaws of New York in previous series, have a lot of fun popping all of the ‘diversity’ and politically correct ideas that have come up in the last decade, particularly in California. Roger Ebert’s rule about funny names not being funny doesn’t quite apply here characters are named Jayden Kwapis. Mikaela Shaw and Arpi Meskimen. Fey also gets to jab the political scene very well: when one character mentions that Bremer keeps saying he got 68 % of the vote, one fires back: “He got 68% of the eight percent who voted. Don’t tell him that” and his chief of staff admitted she only took the job to increase her Instagram following — she never expected him to win.
Bremer is supremely ill-fitted to the job and he doesn’t seem to like all of the photo ops he has to keep doing. Danson is very good at doing the comic bits, but unlike his past several roles, he seems more ill-at ease than he instantly has. The best performances on the series to this date come from two female characters. The first is Mikaela, the twenty something social media chief of staff. Played by Vella Lovell, who was responsible for so many hysterical deadpan moments on Crazy Ex- Girlfriend, she is the perfect match for so much of the humor.
But by far the best performer on this series is Holly Hunter as the ultra liberal councilwoman Arpi Meskimen, who can’t utter a sentence without sounding like everything the right thinks the left really is. The difference is, she’s organized, very crafty and far cagier to the political scene that Bremer is, and she is very capable of outmaneuvering anyone who tries to get her in way. She also has the ability with the worst kind of acronyms for her plans: her name for a plan to stop planes from flying over certain neighborhoods is PPPORN. Hunter has been a slightly lesser discovery of the Golden Age, though she’s given excellent performances on Saving Grace and most recently on Succession, but in this performance she once again demonstrates the gift for comedy she had in so many movies when she was getting started.
The early episodes of Mr. Mayor are very hit or miss. The dialogue has a lot of the throwaway jokes that Fey and her ilk were so good at on their earlier shows, but this time they have so many there’s a good chance you’ll miss a lot of them. And it still hasn’t decided how seriously it wants to take its personal relationships — Bremer’s relationship with his teenage daughter was interesting in the pilot, but ignored in the next one. But for once, I’m not going to make a final judgment this quick. It is funny, and if it’s not perfect yet, well I remember how erratic the early episodes of 30 Rock were, and that turned out pretty well for everyone.
My score: 3.5 stars.