- Mr. Mayor. NBC. Thursday, January 7, 7 p.m.
- Call Me Kat. Fox. Thursday, January 7, 7 p.m.
Recycling may be garbage when it comes to your kitchen. But your television may be another matter. NBC's Mr. Mayor, which reworks 30 Rock as a cluster bomb directed against politics instead of TV itself, is gourmet recycling. Then again, there's Fox's Call Me Kat, which transforms the nerd-comedy masterpiece The Big Bang Theory into—well, garbage.
30 Rock was one of the most brutally funny sitcoms in all TV history, not just biting but swallowing whole the television hand that fed it. (Some of the shows its fictional TV network aired, like Bitch Hunter and MILF Island, probably came thiiiiiiiiiis close to making the actual NBC schedule.) Written and starring Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey, there hasn't been anything quite like 30 Rock since it left the air in 2013.
Not at all coincidentally, that's precisely the length of Mr. Mayor's prolonged and painful gestation. Created by Fey and her SNL and 30 Rock writing partner Robert Carlock (among many others, he authored the SNL Schweddy Balls sketches) It was originally planned as a spinoff of 30 Rock, with network boss Alec Baldwin deciding to run for mayor of New York. Baldwin dropped out; Ted Danson said he would take the role, but only if the show moved to Los Angeles. Production finally began, only to fall victim to the coronavirus—twice.
So, it's a minor miracle that Mr. Mayor made it to the air, and you should be appropriately thankful. The two episodes I saw were utterly pee-your-pants hilarious, mercilessly lashing out in all political directions. Danson plays Neil Bremer, a retired billboard zillionaire swept into office after the previous mayor, crushed by 2020, retired without warning. (Final blow: Murder hornets showed up in Los Angeles and turned out to be miniaturized North Korean fighter jets.) Though he didn't tell voters, Bremer had no real political agenda; he only wanted to impress his teenaged daughter, who thought of him—not inaccurately—only as a doddering old unemployed techno-blockhead who has trouble figuring out how to turn his TV off and on.
Now that he's mayor, though, Bremer's awesome lack of political instinct is killing him. He tries to ban plastic drinking straws (an idea he stole from his acerbic lefty daughter, who's running for president of her sophomore class, though he doesn't include her ringing slogan: "Drinking through straws is a phallic lie!") yet has no comeback when L.A.'s nutball progressives accuse him of genocide against quadriplegics who will die without bendy straws. He gets wrecked on the merchandise as he presides over a ceremony honoring the opening of the city's 10,000th marijuana dispensary. His policy initiatives ("I'm very open to the idea of an all-robot police force") are even more clueless than most—well, many—of those you near coming out of real-life Washington.
Picking on the idiocy of politicians, though nearly always amusing, is an ancient Hollywood trope that probably couldn't support a TV series for long. Mr. Mayor goes much further, attacking the very process of politics. Bremer's aides are as lunkheaded as he is—they try to order him a police escort to a political event and wind up with strippers—and his progressive opponents are clearly even more so: Their leader, played by Holly Hunter, is demanding the demolition of statues of Big Boy on the grounds that "it whitewashes the labor force and gives me sexual nightmares." The entire city hall is a nest of avaricious vipers, each of them demanding a political payoff even for a roll of Scotch tape from the supply closet. Even the journalists get scathing treatment. When Bremer announces his ban on straws, a reporter—I'm looking at you, Jim Acosta—self-righteously demands, "How will people do cocaine?"
The characters are all well-drawn and hysterical, but they are by no means the whole show. Like 30 Rock, the air on Mr. Mayor crackles with hilarity. Every throwaway line is subversively funny. Even the diseases are funny, apologies in advance to the many victims of "erotic dementia" and "podiatric claustrophobia" among my readers.
And apologies to literally everybody for my mention of Call Me Kat, in which Mayim Bialik plays a relentlessy unfunny version of the sexually frustrated nerd Amy, her character on The Big Bang Theory. Bialik and Jim Parsons, the uber-nerd Sheldon of Big Bang, are both producers of Kat, but they don't seem to have picked up many tips from their former employer.
Kat, unfulfilled by her life as a mathematician, decides to leave academia and open one of those trendy cat cafes, which allows her more time to come up with slogans like "It's purrrr-fect!" (if reading that once here makes you want to murder somebody, you'll be a legendary serial killer by the end of the first episode of Kat), brood about her perpetual lack of a boyfriend, mug a lot, and perform pratfalls. As for laughs, well, at UCLA, Bialik wrote a thesis for a doctorate in neuroscience called "Hypothalamic regulation in releation to maladaptive, obsessive -compulsive and satiety behaviors in Prader-Willi syndrome." You'll find more of them in there.