Contempt. That’s pretty much the only word to describe FOX broadcasting a new Mulaney all alone on Sunday night, airing it at 7PM, whilst the rest of the Sunday shows were off on account of a huge football game. Well, at least they haven’t scheduled a new episode up against the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks, although there is time for them to change their minds. However, none of this is pertinent to the quality of “French Roast.” At least the standup bit he did at the beginning of the episode was pretty much word-for-word an anecdote he told on Late Night with Seth Meyers while promoting the show. It’s a funny story, but not necessarily one worth hearing twice.
French Roast is in many ways about status—social, economical, et cetera. In the main storyline, Lou is going to be roasted on his show, and he invites John to be one of the roasters, which John is obviously enthusiastic about. Also, Lou was in a terrible, Darryl Strawberry-edited film called French Toast, and these two facts combine to give us the pun in the title. Since Joh, and Andre are hot dogs, and Lou is a steak, John assumes he can punch up, and really lay into Lou.
Obviously, Lou isn’t enthused about this, and John has to go about making it up to Lou. Basically, he does this by inviting Lou over to his apartment (bear in mind this episode was originally supposed to air third in production order) and Lou realizes how poor and of low status he is. He has a good laugh, and all is well. It’s pretty dark, pretty Seinfeldian if you will, but it’s funny and it works. Lou’s storylines tend to be weaker than others, but this one was quite satisfactory. The episode also ends with Jane and John watching French Toast, and then some clips of Lou shooting the movie. Martin Short gets to play a hammy actor chewing the scenery which, as a hammy actor chewing the scenery, is right in his wheelhouse.
This isn’t the only time we see clips from outside the world of Mulaney in this episode, as this also happens in Jane’s storyline, which gets pretty much the same amount of screen time as John’s. Motif does little of anything, rendered a regular Andre for this one. Jane is dating some distinguished older gentleman who doesn’t appreciate her rude, crude attitude. Living with the wild and crazy yoghurt-eating duo of John and Motif isn’t exactly the ideal situation for a sophisticate, but fortunately Oscar is currently studying 50s etiquette. So, we get a bit of a Pygmalion situation wherein Oscar remakes Jane into a 50s gal.
For Jane this means, in short, never talking, always listening, vacuuming, and taking drugs. Worried that she is going to fall asleep during the documentary her date is taking her to, Jane takes some “study pills,” from Andre, a generic answer to Adderall. This ends in extreme gastrointestinal stress, to put it mildly. This is not the funniest, or most original, payoff to this storyline. But, at least along the way we get a bizarre, 50s-style newsreel about Jane’s adventure as a proper lady. It includes, but is not limited to, shots of her performing a “cocktail song,” and mindlessly vacuuming up popcorn. It’s out of left field, but it’s really funny and clever, and it made the storyline worth it.
“French Roast” is a smoother ride than some of the other early Mulaney episodes. Granted, in a way these are all “early” episodes, since this is a truncated first season. While the plots aren’t entirely successful, they at least make sense, and are fairly well-crafted and funny. It’s a good episode, solid and unspectacular. It’s not a steak, but it’s also not a hot dog.
Chris Morgan is an Internet gadabout who writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of mediums. If he had to select one thing to promote, however, it would be his ’90s blog/podcast, Existential Parachute Pants. (You can also follow him on Twitter.)