National Post (Latest Edition)

WATCH, WINCE, REPEAT

DESPITE THE TALENTED CAST OF MR. MAYOR, NEW SITCOM AN UNWORTHY HEIR TO 30 ROCK

- Thursdays, Citytv/nbc Daniel D’addario

Late last year, a potential heir to 30 rock debuted on a largely unheralded streaming service. Saved by the Bell, Peacock’s reboot of the 1989-92 teen staple, traded its forerunner’s clunkiness for a fleet and jazzy willingnes­s to push past absurdity. From its breezy relationsh­ip with reality to its rich and deep bench of characters, it was no surprise this series came from the mind of a key force behind 30 rock — Tracey Wigfield, who shared an Emmy win with Tina Fey for writing that series’s finale. Wigfield’s impish, hyperverba­l humour both recalled her past creative home at its best and suggested that it might have a future.

The resounding creative success of Bell has one downside: It serves to emphasize that which does not work about Mr. Mayor, NBC’S new sitcom co-created by Fey and robert Carlock.

The two driving forces behind 30 rock have taken a potentiall­y intriguing premise and a setting rich with possibilit­y and made a dour, half-hearted wince of a sitcom, a show that at a network-ready 22 minutes still seems to drag itself over the finish line. Mr. Mayor is disappoint­ing — but disappoint­ments happen. The great surprise of the show, given the talent involved, is the degree to which it’s an unpleasant hang.

The show centres on the conflict between Neil Bremer (Ted danson), the newly installed mayor of Los Angeles, and Arpi Meskimen (holly hunter), a rival he appoints as his deputy. Neil, a vain captain of industry who entered politics on a lark, could be said to represent chaos; Arpi, a striver with big ideas and limited interperso­nal charms, imposes order. So far, so promising: The trouble, though, is that the show holds both in varying degrees of contempt, Neil for his dilletanti­shness and Arpi for her caricature­d lefty ways.

We meet both characters at press conference­s, and both are in over their heads: Neil seems generally lost in his job, while Arpi is declaring full-throated opposition to a plastic-straw ban on behalf of people with disabiliti­es. She’s revealed, in short order, to have no idea what she’s talking about and to have used nicknames for people with quadripleg­ia that they themselves would never use.

And so it is that, in its early going, a show about city government becomes a show about how only silly or vain people try to change the world. Neil’s aides — played by Vella Lovell and Mike Cabellon, with Bobby Moynihan as the office oddball — are alternatel­y incompeten­t or neurotical­ly obsessed with how they’re perceived.

Lovell’s character, the mayor’s chief of staff, expresses concern for how her work will read on “biracial Twitter.” Neil is, at least, guided by a mission, to prove himself to his daughter (Kyla Kenedy).

All of these characters tend to explain their or one another’s motivation­s in flat exposition­al dialogue, as in Neil’s opening presser at which he describes the show’s premise. Or, take this line given to Arpi in which she flatly tells Neil the show’s main idea: “Boy, you really don’t know what you’re doing — not just at work but at home.”

Little wonder, tasked with ceaseless narration of a fairly basic concept, both hunter and danson give genially tuned-out performanc­es, coasting on charm to grease the skids of a show whose tone might otherwise lean hard into annoyance. (danson in particular seems lost; it’s a relief that he doesn’t play up his character’s Trumpish aspects, but the mischief and waggishnes­s so familiar to TV fans is gone, too.)

There’s room to tell good jokes both about wealthy people using the political arena as their playground and about the pretension­s of American liberals. 30 rock did this all the time! And when Fey and Carlock’s unbreakabl­e Kimmy Schmidt shifted into increasing­ly sharp attacks on the sensitivit­ies of contempora­ry culture — well, it happened on a series with so much going on that, like it or not, the show’s antic imbalance was the point.

Mr. Mayor is really just about an inept politician and his self-styled conscience, someone whose buffoonish streak shows in that she believes government can help people.

That’s one area in which this show suffers especially by comparison to its forbear: Set amid the world of television, 30 rock evinced a deep love for its subject, the sort of love that allows one to tweak vanities with deep familiarit­y and warm wit. Mr. Mayor looks at politics with the kind of aggrieved skepticism that makes a viewer wonder why its creators bothered making it a show at all.

 ?? NBC ?? Even sitcom veteran Ted Danson, left, seen with SNL alum Bobby Moynihan, can’t save
Mr. Mayor, a new comedy series about city government.
NBC Even sitcom veteran Ted Danson, left, seen with SNL alum Bobby Moynihan, can’t save Mr. Mayor, a new comedy series about city government.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada