Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

John Mulaney's Pilot Taping Was Last Night, and It Was Great

A taping for John Mulaney's NBC sitcom pilot Mulaney was held in Los Angeles last night, and it turned out very funny thanks to a talented cast and a tight, joke-packed script. I was in the live studio audience for the taping, and, while I can't share any details or spoilers about the pilot, I can say that the taping went well and NBC would be crazy not to pick it up for the fall.

While most TV pilots get bogged down with backstory, spending the bulk of their time on plot rather than giving the audience an idea of what a typical episode will look like, the Mulaney pilot dives right in without devoting any time to unnecessary exposition. Mulaney, who also created the show, stars as a fictional version of himself who lives in Brooklyn and writes for a TV game show. He's the core of an ensemble cast that includes Elliott Gould as his gay neighbor Oscar, SNL's Nasim Pedrad and stand-up Griffin Newman as his roommates Jane and Seymour, stand-up Seaton Smith as his comedian friend Motif, and Martin Short as his game show host boss Lou Cannon.

Short is perfectly cast as a bigheaded game show host; there hasn't been a role better suited for him in decades – or possibly ever. Mulaney and Short have instant chemistry with each other, and Short seemed to improvise a good chunk of his dialogue, which went over really well with the audience. While watching Short work and improvise was the highlight of the taping, everyone in the cast gave a great performance and already had a good handle on their characters in the first (and hopefully not last) episode. The rapport between Mulaney and the actors who play his roommates, Nasim Pedrad and Griffin Newman, is strong and leads to some of the pilot's best scenes.

Some fans online have expressed concern that Mulaney is a multi-camera show with a live audience when the bulk of the funniest, coolest sitcoms in the past decade have been single-camera with no audience, but let me assure you that the pilot is just as dense with jokes as a single-camera show and having an audience there doesn't change the pacing of the humor too much. Some of the best sitcoms ever, from Taxi to Cheers, Seinfeld to NewsRadio, have been multi-cam, and there's no reason a multi-cam show today can't be good. Mulaney excels in the format and brings sharp witty comedy back to the three-camera world. A performer like Martin Short can feed off of a live audience, energizing him in a way that wouldn't be possible if he was just playing to a bunch of crew members trying to do their jobs and not laugh. The rest of the ensemble is packed with performers with live audience experience like stand-ups Mulaney, Newman, and Smith, SNL cast member Nasim Pedrad, and frequent SNL host Elliott Gould.

While the multi-cam format suits the show, it's still a surprising choice for a hip, young show from NBC that's mostly produced by folks from the single-camera world. To help adjust to the medium, Mulaney hired three-camera veteran Andy Ackerman, who directed four entire seasons of Seinfeld amongst countless other shows. Robert Carlock, who was Tina Fey's co-showrunner on 30 Rock,  is serving as an executive producer and writer and he has plenty of traditional sitcom experience. Also, the audience warm-up guy was straight out of 1993. Lorne Michaels and longtime 30 Rock and Parks and Rec producer David Miner are also working on the show, as is SNL writer Marika Sawyer, making up an impressive comedy brain trust responsible for every other funny show on the air these past two decades.

With a solid pilot for Mulaney in the bank and a ton of space to fill on NBC's fall schedule, the show seems like a shoo-in for a fall pick up. It'd be a real shame if that's the last episode of Mulaney I ever get to see.

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  • Brent

    If the show goes on, which I hope it does, they better fire that warm-up comic. He was the absolute worst and wore the audience out from his awful comedy from the 80s. Surprised the crew and actors didn't find him disruptive as well.

    • http://twitter.com/ssamanthaa Samantha Pitchel

      Man that guy haaaaaated the UCB, too.

      • Hunter

        There aren't enough words in the lexicon of the English language to accurately describe how much I despised this man.

        • LadyJ

          Prank calls and references get old after one minute, much less 400. Add morning radio noises and you have a Stanford prison experiment.

    • thebigcheesesteak

      Who was it?

  • cool dewd

    Why do comedy nerds have such a boner for this guy? He's a dweeb. Like comedy ner… ooooohhhh. Carry on.

  • Devin

    Man, I was there. This show's gonna be a bust.

  • Rex

    I was so bummed with how not good this was. Mulaney is possibly my favorite comic but this relied on obvious gags (all the gay jokes, the black comic who talks incessantly about white people) and non-existent characterization. Short brings some much needed energy but outside of that, it's a big disappointment. I hope it gets picked up and has a chance to grow but as is, this felt like a really really rough draft of a sitcom.

  • Chris

    As someone who attended the taping- this show is going to be huge.

    The format of the multi-cam plays into John's sensibilities as a stand up. It is a familiar traditional format that allows John to explore a darker subject matter, without losing the trust of his audience.

    Since John's stand up delivery is heavily influenced by the comedians he grew up listening to- Bob & Ray, Jack Benny… His voice felt right at home on the traditional multi-cam set.

    Also, Andy Ackerman and Robert Carlock's influence was very apparent. Mulaney felt like a younger, hipper version of Seinfeld that explored heavier themes.

    Ditto that they should fire that terrible warm up comedian.

    • AE

      WOW! What an obvious shill! Andy Ackerman's influence was apparent?! He's just a professional TV director doing his everyday job. His recent assignments were "Whitney" and "I Hate my Teenage Daughter" and i must've missed his Lubitsch touch in them. And who can claim that multi-cam is a better format for "dark subjects"?! Pathetic!

      • Chris

        Let me explain, you philistine.

        Directing a pilot is an art, not a day job. The look, tone, feel and pace of the show is set by the director.

        I did not say that multi-cam is a better format for "dark subjects." I claimed that the "traditional" format played into John's voice as a standup, because he uses a 1950's/1960's style of delivery to discuss difficult modern themes (See: Chase Through the Subway, Blacking Out and Making Money on The Top Part)

        Not a shrill, just a long time John Mulaney fan.

        Now, what management company/agency do you work for that has a competing pilot in contention at NBC?

        • AE

          Even if TV directing can be considered an art, That doesn't make every single director in this field an artist. There's no difference between these multi-cam sitcoms in staging and camera work. If Seinfeld and Whitney are different in tone, It's because of their writing and performances and even their production design.

          John's voice? You mean his self-consciously sarcastic observational humor with a pinch of adorable absurdity for seasoning like 99% of other-particularly white-comics working today(with perhaps less cuteness)? Apparently You really like using big words;"difficult modern themes" is such a ridiculously broad term that can be attributed to anything.

          Anyway, I apologize for calling you a shill.

          • Chris

            No worries! I apologize for calling you a philistine.

  • lala

    I hate people who love single-camera comedies. I wish they'd just die.

  • Brad

    It's funny how things turned out. Not quite sure if I can trust your reviews anymore considering y'all are supposed to be the 'tastemakers' with comedy.