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'Mr. Mayor' review: Ted Danson, Tina Fey team for wan, predictable sitcom

Ted Danson (l) and Bobby Moynihan in NBC's

Ted Danson (l) and Bobby Moynihan in NBC's "Mr. Mayor." Credit: Mitchell Haddad/NBC/NBC

SITCOM "Mr. Mayor"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Newly-elected Los Angeles Mayor Neil Bremer (Ted Danson) enters office with high hopes, which are about to be dashed. As a former business owner (he ran a billboard company), he was happily retired and "quarantining before it was cool," but then a special election was called and "I jumped in." A surprise victor, to himself as well, he now faces the complexities of running a vast city, or at least City Hall. To help him figure out the job, or avoid the minefields, he quickly names a councilwoman, Arpi Meskimen (Holly Hunter) as his deputy mayor and Mikaela Show (Vella Lovell, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend") chief of staff, but inherits a rather eccentric director of communications, Jayden Kwapis (Bobby Moynihan, "SNL"). Bremer wants to do good, or at least do away with dumb stuff, and so, as first order of business, bans plastic straws. That's also his first misstep: His only daughter, Orly (Kyla Kenedy, "Speechless"), running for class president, wants to ban them too and she thinks he's co-opted her platform.

This one comes from Robert Carlock and Tina Fey ("30 Rock," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt").

MY SAY Why a mayor? Mired as such in the minutia of the job, a few can be mean, petty, and vainglorious. Most spend their days fighting with the media, police, sanitation, council members, teachers, unions, governors, and constituents. Occasionally (two New Yorkers come to mind, anyway) they make quixotic runs for president, one of them while in office (now that was funny). TV sitcom material? Probably not.

Michael J. Fox's "Spin City" (1996-2002) got around this by making his character deputy mayor (aspirants to the throne, such as this is, are, in fact, funny). "Parks and Recreation" avoided mayors almost entirely, with Bill Murray's Mayor of Pawnee appearing just once, in flashback, at his funeral.

And so, with expectations already diminished (or sundered) comes "Mr. Mayor." The first couple of episodes pick at most of the low-hanging fruit, or the obvious, easy targets — jokes about Los Angeles, mayoral proclamations, preening millennials, the unicyclist community and murder hornets. There's a long-running gag about a certain type of porn (doesn't work), another about pot edibles (better, but only a bit). None comes even marginally close to the best work of Carlock/Fey.

Blame COVID? (And like everything else, production was saddled with onerous if essential protocols that are not exactly conducive to comedy.) Or the fact that Carlock/Fey are out of their element, or chosen city (New York) here? Or The Mayor itself — that largely unfunny construct?

In fact, it's probably advisable to give this one some time. Two episodes (that were made available to critics) hardly make a series, or even a fully-baked comedic idea, and they certainly don't here. But the on-screen talent (Danson) is legendary, while Carlock/Fey as a writing team is still peerless. They'll get this right. They always do. It's just such a strange disjunction when they don't.

BOTTOM LINE Wan, worn, predictable, "Mr. Mayor" feels like a misfire in the early episodes.

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