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.