At one point the star, namesake and creator of “Mulaney” refers to himself as a “Seinfeld ripoff,” which is not a good idea, even in jest. That’s because this uneven and uninspired Fox series exposes the difference between sharp observational comedy and funny sitcoms, and those that, well, aren’t. Beyond a “Seinfeld”-like framing device — John Mulaney opens each episode doing standup — and a couple of self-absorbed pals, the show proves inordinately flat, punctuated by a few moments of silliness that, ultimately, enough to justify still add up to less than nothing.
Young and fresh-faced, Mulaney approaches his material with a perplexed, self-effacing persona. Once the actual show begins, he’s a standup — living with another comic, named Motif (Seaton Smith) — who is forced to take a job writing for an aging comic star, Lou Cannon (Martin Short), presently relegated to hosting a daytime gameshow. (Not surprisingly, Short’s character is all raging ego and venality, which starts to get old by, oh, the second-act break.)
Mulaney’s circle also includes his platonic pal Jane (Nasim Pedrad) and a fabulously gay neighbor played by Elliott Gould, who waltzes in periodically to throw off a couple of sex jokes, and just as quickly disappears.
Written by Mulaney and directed by Andy Ackerman, “Mulaney” doesn’t take itself too seriously, and its broad approach might explain why Fox opted to give it a shot on Sunday nights behind “Family Guy.” In this case, however, “live-action cartoon” really can’t be viewed as a compliment. It’s more like a contest — only here, to present the characters in the most banal and predictable manner possible.
To be fair, the four episodes previewed yield a couple of laughs, including a bit where Motif — who is African-American, and a complete stranger to “Friends” — begins binge-watching the show, which proves an eye-opening experience.
Still, it’s small compensation for a sitcom that feels dated enough to have come out of the way-back machine — and that too often seems to stop time when trying to watch it.
If there’s a low point, incidentally, it’s a later installment in which Jane tries to win the affection of her aloof new cat, treating the scenes like a relationship with a guy.
Although after watching four episodes of “Mulaney,” the cat summed up my indifference purr-fectly.