Netflix’s new animated comedy has some growing pains, but improves as it goes.
Mulligan may be an animated comedy about a ragtag group of survivors of an alien attack on Earth. However, Hardcore 30 Rock fans will quickly discover Netflix’s new animated series feels pretty familiar to the early-aughts sitcom. First, there’s the fast-paced comedic timing, a signature of producers Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, and Sam Means. Next, both series feature the infectious, bouncy music of Jeff Richmond. Finally, both got off to a bit of a rough start. Still, just like hang gliding over an apocalyptic alien attack, Mulligan’s an amusing, wild journey that rewards viewers who hang on for the ride.
Mulligan begins with Matty Mulligan (Nat Faxon), a Bostonian and former semi-pro baseball player. Together with Lucy Suwan (Chrissy Teigen), a Miss America winner, they hang glide onto a spaceship in the middle of the alien attack. They toss a grenade into an open vent of the aircraft–it’s always an open vent!–and save what’s left of Washington DC from total annihilation. Matty and Lucy become de-facto President and First Lady, despite only meeting earlier that day. Nevertheless, Earth needs a jolt of optimism. Thus, they commit to keeping up appearances and faking it until they make it.
Every President needs a cabinet, so Matty and Lucy set out to find the smartest folks who didn’t board and die on Jeff Bezos’s escape ship. Their cabinet consists of smarmy southern Senator Cartwright LaMarr (Dana Carvey), Military scientist and single mom Dr. Farrah Braun (Tina Fey), her cyborg TOD (Kevin Michael Richardson), nerdy historian Simon Prioleau (Sam Richardson), and “General Scarpaccio”… who’s actually a teen boy Jayson Moody (Ayo Edebiri). He’s posing as an adult in a dead general’s uniform. The position lets him indulge in a penchant for taking flamethrowers to Justin Bieber wax statues.
In addition to rebuilding the world, they’re also holding a lone stranded alien Axatrax (Phil LaMarr), a citizen of planet Cardi-B (it’s a coincidence!), as their prisoner. Together the ensemble hopes they can rebuild what’s left of Earth. Even if there’s no electricity and all the beer is warm at best.
Hardcore 30 Rock fans will quickly discover Netflix’s new animated series feels pretty familiar to the early-aughts sitcom.
One weakness of Mulligan is that viewers are dropped into the world too fast. The cold open in the pilot is the alien attack, ending with Matty and Lucy’s heroic hang glide and grenade attack. It’s jarring to be launched into the show without having a little more exposition. We need a bit more time with the characters in their world before we jump into the chaos. Otherwise, it feels like a “hat on a hat” – one over-the-top joke on top of another, which loses its comedic charm.
As the show progresses, Mulligan does dig deeper to find the funny in the complexities of post-apocalyptic life. One such moment finds Senator LaMarr finally supporting solar energy as it’s the only means to help charge his LVAD machine. There’s also a hilarious look at life after money. Billionaire Johnny Zhao (Ronny Chieng) burns his fortune to keep warm as the dollar no longer holds value. Meanwhile, kisses have replaced traditional currency. As it fills out its ten-episode season, Mulligan zeros in. It builds on the characters and relationships, and finds more socio-political commentary to mine for laughs.
One of Mulligan’s strongest elements is its cast. Teigen shines as Lucy. Watching her lean into dimwitted comedic moments while sneaking in some clever attacks (such as using Lucy’s beauty pageant skills to outmaneuver Senator LaMarr) is enjoyable. Fey and Richardson are a stellar duo as Farrah and Simon. There’s a hilarious episode where they elaborately concoct a National Treasure-esque plan to convince Matty to break into a seed vault, their chemistry coming through. Edebiri’s dry wit fits General Scarpaccio excellently. Carvey is also excellent as Senator Cartwright, passing questionable laws, like making speaking Spanish illegal, to satisfy his own whims.
Like a surprise alien attack, it may be jarring to jump head-first into Mulligan’s world of Cardi-B-ean aliens and Earth’s cartoonish humans. But like many great sitcoms before it, viewers who stick with Mulligan will be rewarded with some great humor. In the age of streaming and a launch during a writers’ strike, it’s oddly apocalyptic for many TV shows. Here’s hoping Mulligan gets a chance to build on the characters and relationships for many other seasons to come.
Mulligan is lounging in the rubble of a shattered world on Netflix now.