Unfortunately, NBC has provided critics with only two episodes of “Mr. Mayor,” the new comedy from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock of “30 Rock.” The NBC show premieres with those two episodes on Thursday night at 8 p.m., but all I am prepared to say about it at this point is that it has a lot of potential. Like a number of sitcoms that wound up becoming top-notch, including “30 Rock,” “Mr. Mayor” has a wobbly start. You can feel the writers and the actors driving toward something good, but not having reached it yet. I kept waiting, and waiting, for everything to fall into place.
The original idea for the show was that it would be a sequel of sorts to “30 Rock,” with Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy running for mayor of New York and, to everyone’s surprise, winning. Baldwin wasn’t interested, and so Fey and Carlock rejiggered the concept, with Ted Danson now starring as a wealthy retiree named Neil Bremer who becomes the mayor of (post-pandemic) LA with absolutely no political credentials. It’s a satire of contemporary politics, of course, as an unfit man is elected and triggers chaos — and it’s as spikey as another NBC political sitcom, “Parks and Recreation,” wasn’t. But it’s also about the flatness of LA, the workplace relationships among Mayor Bremer’s staff (which includes Bobby Moynihan and Vella Lovell), and the static cling between the mayor and a super-liberal councilwoman played by Holly Hunter. We also see Bremer dealing with a 15-year-old daughter he is desperate to impress.
The cast is good, with the ping-ponging of barbs between Danson and Hunter — network-styled, not “Veep”-styled — particularly enjoyable. Danson is in his shoulder-shrugging “whatever” mode, his mellowness coming to full fruition in the second episode, when he ingests pot edibles and sails through a day of photo ops. The material is, as it was on “30 Rock,” dense with witty comments, double entendre, and cultural allusions, inviting us to perk up our ears or miss half of the jokes. Political correctness, journalists, wokeness, hypocrisy, pop culture, narcissism, earnestness, cynicism, they all take a few hits per minute.
But there is no cohesion, no clear target, no sense of what exactly this show is aiming for — yet. Fey and Carlock’s trademark brutal humor is there, but it seems randomly deployed. I’m going to continue to watch “Mr. Mayor” closely and carefully, waiting, my fingers crossed.