8.0

Mulaney: “Motif & The City”

(Episode 1.10)

TV Reviews
Mulaney: “Motif & The City”

Motif has been the least-defined of the three main roommates on Mulaney so far. John is the titular Mulaney, so obviously he’s gotten plenty of screen time. Nasim Pedrad’s Jane would be the breakout character of this show if only it had enough cache for anybody to break out. That just leaves Seaton Smith’s Motif, who figures prominently into the plot of “Motif & the City.” It turns out, while John lives in an ersatz version of Seinfeld, Motif is living in his own personal Sex and the City.

The main plot is pretty basic stuff. Motif is sort of the third wheel in the apartment. Jane and John are the ones on the lease, and the good friends who have lived together for years. Naturally, Motif starts to feel unwanted. When Jane and John provide a candlelight unveiling of his name added to the cable bill, the gesture falls short and he decides to move out.

Where this takes a humorous turn is in the fact that Motif suddenly finds himself as the Carrie in a Sex and the City scenario, where he’s brunching with his three lady friends. And it probably helps to have some awareness of the show to get the real meat of this comedy bit. Was there a character on Sex and the City that mentioned being a lawyer a lot? Because that’s a bit they do, for example. The Kim Catrall of the group is pretty spot on, at least.

Meanwhile, uptown, John and Jane have realized they need Motif to make a lot of noise to drown out the city and to compliment them. They need somebody who realizes that you should never say Jane looks like Christian Amanpour. They make a pitch to him, he says goodbye to his lady friends forever, and then there is a little twist at the end where John’s name comes off the lease and Motif (No Last Name Given) replaces him.

This last little fact likely won’t mean anything. It’s just a joke that points to Jane turning on John the first chance she gets, and there’s the sight gag of two old hippies dragging John out of the tenant’s meeting in Oscar’s apartment. Obviously, the status quo is going to remain the same. It’s John, Jane, and Motif, now and forever.

Motif still isn’t as well-defined, or as funny as John or Jane, but they managed a nice storyline based around him here. Sure, John and Jane still get a lot of the best jokes, but Motif and his brunch friends were a funny nod to a beloved series—one that the show hasn’t already been compared to. Motif is basically the Elaine of Mulaney (sort of by default, because John, Jane, and Andre are fairly obviously Jerry, George, and Kramer), and while Elaine was awesome, it also took them longer to really work that character out. Time, alas, Mulaney might not have.

Speaking of Andre, he has a strange, but funny, scene in his bedroom with Motif that involves Andre fighting with a large black woman with dreadlocks who is, presumably, his nanny. He’s also involved in a sight gag in the secondary storyline, which takes place at John’s work, because something has to happen there, and Martin Short needs to be involved somehow. Basically, Lou has been working with the same audience plant, who he makes fun of “off the cuff,” for years, but now that guy wants a contract. He eventually gets it, and passes on a role on The Good Wife, and the plot is alright. Lou’s appearances on the show the last few weeks have been weaker points, and it kind of makes the suggestion that maybe less time should be spent on John’s job. That won’t happen, though, because of Short.

This storyline did provide us with was an amusing, notable bit of presumed meta comedy. When Lou explains why John can’t be an audience plant, he mentions how terrible an actor John is. One of the main complaints about Mulaney early on was that Mulaney, the actual person, is not a good actor. Kudos to the show for mining some humor out of that. Additionally, Mulaney’s “bad acting” is a bit overstated. Like Seinfeld, he’s capable of playing himself. That may be the extent of it, but his acting is not a problem for Mulaney.

“Motif & the City” will have to tide Mulaney fans over for a few weeks, but fortunately it was a very good episode. It does some clever things with some basic archetypes, and manages to create an actually funny extended bit of parody/homage as well. Almost all the good stuff is located within the main plot, but it was enough to provide plenty of enjoyment for the week. As a lawyer, I advise you to watch it.

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.)

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