Tina Fey’s critically adored genius of 30 Rock, if criminally under-seen workplace sitcom, lies not only in her breathlessly rapid sequence of imaginative one-liners, but in her overall structure, a comedy of the network that moved like no other.
Fey excitingly rewrote the rules of what we would expect from the genre and presented a modern framework for how jokes should be organized and performed, giving herself and her many talented co-writers a room that is completely their own, far from their more conventionally focused peers. History of Swear Words review – Nicolas Cage curses his way through the shallow series of NetflixContinueAfter the series ended, the template was soon resurrected by another 30 Rock alumnus, Tracey Wigfield, for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, produced by Fey and her 30 Rock writer and producer Robert Carlock, and then again for Great News.
Both had their moments, but the momentum of the series they spawned fell flat, followed by a slippery realization that perhaps flexibility was not intended for this radical new format.
The fear has now been completely verified by the latest and flashiest attempt by Mr. Mayor, Fey and Carlock to conjure up the same old magic – a new comedy that is far from tragic, but also far from necessary, setting off an unusual and maybe not entirely good TV year. The path to the small screen was complicated not only because of the obvious (like many new shows, as a result of the pandemic, it suffered from a stop-start production process), but also because of its move from a 30 Rock spin-off set in New York starring Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy to a do-nothing-with-3o-Rock series starring Ted Danson based in LA. The resulting Frankensitcom, which also aims to be the first official piece of fiction set in the aftermath of the corona virus, is unsurprisingly a bit of a mess, at least as far as critics are concerned with the first two episodes provided – but not without a glimmer or two of something, whatever it might end up being. Danson, who recently left The Good Place, plays Neil Bremer in the plot, a rich businessman who has stumbled into the role of mayor of Los Angeles. Obvious parallels end there, as Bremer is more clueless than devious, to the soon-to-be dethroned U.S. president.
It is therefore up to the people around him to shape what kind of politician he is, including Mad Ex-Vella Girlfriend’s Lovell as a cynical, Insta-obsessed counselor, Bobby Moynihan as an uncomfortable aide, formerly underused ex-SNL guy, and, most excitingly, Holly Hunter as an activist who becomes the deputy of Bremer. The myopia of its cartoonish silliness was one of my increasing problems with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a series I found quite humorous for the most part. While for a while the many outsized characters and odd circumstances were humorous (and ended with a suitably dumb interactive special), it was difficult to gather even the slightest ounce of interest by the third and fourth seasons; it was more a collage of wacky moments than a coherent sequence.
Liz Lemon was someone we sympathized with, romantically and professionally, in 30 Rock, even though the comedy was just just as unreal, a fully developed protagonist faced with all her many shortcomings, and that is one of the key reasons for her run of seven seasons. Fey and Carlock have delivered a Kimmy-like excess with the first two episodes of Mr. Mayor, but in such a scattershot way that it’s hard to consider it throwaway fun, as the focus of the show changes every few minutes, bringing a sense of whiplash to even the most devoted fans of 30 Rock. The supporting characters, vital to a series like this, are not magnetic enough to leave us wanting more than what we’ve got That’s an issue, given that the series will rely heavily on ratings via its NBC home (a streaming binge would have allowed for a more forgiving audience). There’s something here that we haven’t seen before from Danson, and it’s more fun to see an unusually playful Hunter, who blends well with the Fey/Carlock style of wit, and Moynihan, who gets some of the biggest laughs.
But the biggest laughs aren’t big enough, even while the laughs aren’t big enough,