(KGET) — Two network comedies debut this week and both suffer from the same painful problem. The new NBC offering, “Mr. Mayor,” and FOX’s “Call Me Kat” waste their very talented stars by putting them in safe and bland projects. Both shows – launching Jan. 7 – come across as rejects from the 20th Century where network shows could get away with slapstick antics and playground humor.
The explosion of streaming services has only added to the long list of quality comedies that were already being produced by the cable channels. The easiest comparison to see what’s wrong with these new products is to look at “Mr. Mayor” and HBO’s “Veep” or “Call Me Kat” and Prime Video’s “Fleabag.” Instead of a sharp comedic edge used in the cable and streaming series, the network shows are just dull.
In “Mr. Mayor,” Ted Danson plays Neil Bremer, a retired businessman who sees a sign (actually a billboard) that makes him run for mayor in Los Angeles. His win means learning how to be a politician while dealing with his headstrong teenage daughter, Orly (Kyla Kenedy). His other big problem is Arpi Meskimen (Holly Hunter) who is the mayor’s biggest critic. Bremer decides to keep his enemy close and makes her part of his administration.
“Mr. Mayor” features Danson’s return to Thursday nights as his follow-up work after “The Good Place” will air at 8 p.m. Thursdays.
The new comedy series comes from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock who have had success in the past with “30 Rock.” The problem is they have recycled the same comedy formula they used with “30 Rock” when it launched 15 years ago.
“Mr. Mayor” is designed to be a workplace comedy rather than a political satire. Because they didn’t attack the political angles with more edge, Danson’s character is nothing more than the same kind of slightly bungling boss that has been a part of sitcoms for decades. His initial actions are silly but in the end prove to save the day.
That’s a Pollyanna way of looking at elected officials in a world where political chaos is the norm. Danson’s character needed to be more like the one he played in “The Good Place” where there were layers to the role.
His skills are wasted here but the good news is he is so overshadowed by the painfully embarrassing work done by Hunter no one will notice Danson. Hunter’s character could have been a conniving character with unbound political ambitions. Instead, she’s the conveyer of childish humor such as pushing for attention to a study called “PPPORN.” It’s about the flight paths of planes where the initials create the childish joke.
Going for this level of humor shows “Mr. Mayor” is striving for a very safe approach that once worked for network programs. Now, it just looks tired.
The same goes for “Call Me Kat.” The series features Mayim Bialik as Kat, a single woman in her late 30s who gives up a comfortable job to open a cat café in Louisville, KY. This upsets her mother (Swoosie Kurtz) who wants Kat to follow a more traditional life path that includes a husband.
The series from Miranda Hart – based on the BBC series “Miranda” – is another workplace comedy where the chief source of jokes will be Kat’s employee Phil (Leslie Jordan), a neurotic man suffering the ills of a divorce. There’s also a love story angle with Max (Cheyenne Jackson). Kat has had a crush on him for years and now he is working at the piano bar across the street.
“Call Me Kat” lacks the kind of originality that someone as talented as Bialik deserves. The character makes all kinds of declarations about living an independent and strong life but she shows nothing but neediness. Hart’s given Kat a love interest to pine for and a mother that dominates her. Even Jordan’s character is funnier and edgier.
Having Kat talk to the camera doesn’t mask the blandness of the character. The breaking of the fourth wall has become very cliché because of being overused in network shows like “The Office” and “Modern Family.” They could get away with it because the writing was so smart. “Call Me Kat” does not have smart writing.
“Call Me Kat” is a childish sitcom pretending to be grown up. That would have worked 30 years ago but this current TV world has so many places where smart comedies exist, “Call Me Kat” looks completely out of touch with the real comedy TV world.
Just like Danson, the series marks the return of Bialik to Thursday nights after her long run on “The Big Bang Theory.” After it had a sneak preview on Sunday, “Call Me Kat” will begin airing 9 p.m. Thursdays starting Jan. 7.
“Mr. Mayor”: 2 stars
“Call Me Kat”: 1 ½ stars.