FOX Sunday Night TV Breakdown: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ & ‘Mulaney’

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Cole Clay // Film Critic

It’s not fresh news that FOX changed their Sunday night programming known as Animation Domination for a number of years. FOX has largely stuck with that format keeping in long-term staples THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY on the docket with BOB’S BURGERS (irreverence at its finest) staying put as well.

The network imported this years’ Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy Series BROOKLYN NINE-NINE to the line-up and freshman sit-com MULANEY into the mix. We wanted to give the shows a few weeks into the lineup before discussing if this is a good night for these shows to air, or if they are even good for that matter. With that being said we are going to focus on the fresh-faces in FOX’s Sunday night block and leave the other three to collect dust on the DVR.

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, 8:30 p.m. ET

Detectives Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, L) and Peralta (Andy Samberg, R) are on lockdown mode on Thanksgiving night in the "Lockdown" episode of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE airing Sunday, Nov. 16 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: John Fleenor/FOX

Detectives Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, L) and Peralta (Andy Samberg, R) are on lockdown mode on Thanksgiving night in the “Lockdown” episode of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE airing Sunday, Nov. 16 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: John Fleenor/FOX

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE has emerged as a confident and wickedly funny sit-com created by long-time writer/producer of THE OFFICE/ PARKS & REC, Michael Schur. The format for BROOKLYN NINE-NINE is familiar using Detectives Peralta and Santiago – played by Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero respectively – as surrogates for Jim and Pam Halpert to a certain extent. Jo Lo Truglio as Detective Boyle quickly learns his role as the office muppet; Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller are always integrated in the mix as the punching bags for the other detectives. Although the show has followed the same distinctions as the greats that came before, BROOKLYN NINE-NINE only borrows the best qualities; a solid ensemble cast.

Typically it takes time (about a season or two) for a show whose comedy stems from character development to settle into its environment. However, BROOKLYN NINE-NINE came out like gangbusters with a B-plus first season. Each of the players forged an instant dynamic led by the undeniable chemistry between Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher. The writing staff doesn’t muck about with exposition they typically let their characters be.

Season two hasn’t missed a beat from the first season’s surprisingly open-ended finale. Undercover showcased the best parts of Peralta’s device personality by going you guess it, undercover with the mob. Subsequent episodes Chocolate Milk and The Jimmy Jab Games had the ensemble back in full-force. There isn’t a weak link in the ensemble, as Schur has the formula down pat. BROOKLYN NINE-NINE isn’t a game-changer as THE OFFICE was a decade ago, but it’s consistently funny and gives Samberg the chance to take it up to 11.

MULANEY, 9:30 p.m. ET

MULANEY:  John (John Mulaney) performs in front of the live show audience in the "In the Name of the Mother, and the Son and the Holy Andre" episode of MULANEY airing Sunday, Nov. 9 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr:  Ray Mickshaw/FOX

John (John Mulaney) performs in front of the live show audience in the “In the Name of the Mother, and the Son and the Holy Andre” episode of MULANEY airing Sunday, Nov. 9 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

Many have written MULANEY off after only three episode, and on the surface it’s easy to decipher why this has been the case. John Mulaney was a successful writer for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE from 2009-2012 and received the upmost praise, including Bill Hadar, who was stated that Mulaney is the funniest person he has come into contact with during his tenure in comedy.

MULANEY is clearly a send up of the multi-camera sit-coms that were once the kings of television in the 90s, specifically SEINFELD. Short of CBS’s abysmal mega-hit THE BIG BANG THEORY and whatever other Chuck Loree production they have on their schedule. But, there is something about MULANEY that at this point seems inspired and even ambitious at times; even if the content isn’t particularly good. The titular star shares a cadence with Seinfeld that has the potential to extend beyond the reach of what we have seen up to this point. This doesn’t mean that the burgeoning NYC set sit-com will even reach these heights, but Mulaney, along with cast members Nasim Pedrad, Elliot Gould and Martin Short, are at least attempting to do something more interesting than 90% of television programs out there by taking a huge risk in terms of format. It’s true that single camera shows are winning the battle (at least from a critical standpoint) versus the multi-camera format, but it’s a disservice to all parties involved to categorize all sit-coms into binaries.

John (John Mulaney, R) tries to figure out why Jane (Nasim Pedrad, L) doesn't like any of the girls he dates in the "Sweet Jane" episode of MULANEY airing Sunday, Oct. 12 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Ray Mickshaw/FOX

John (John Mulaney, R) tries to figure out why Jane (Nasim Pedrad, L) doesn’t like any of the girls he dates in the “Sweet Jane” episode of MULANEY airing Sunday, Oct. 12 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

As we mentioned before, the three episodes that have aired have been less than spectacular with few laughs peppered in the broad performances. Mulaney’s non-acting approach has yet to hit a rhythm and his monologues are largely re-hashed material from his hour long special “New In Town.” Maybe Mulaney and company should go for a more meta approach (which is exhaustingly popular at the moment) to their format which could pay off in dividends for ratings.

MULANEY has recently been cut back to thirteen-episodes from its original sixteen order; however hopefully FOX will give the show a chance to develop its identity for at least a couple of seasons. The network is notorious for taking a non-traditional approach to programming, and MULANEY has the talent; it just needs time to provide the audience with some context. Keep in mind Mulaney has spent the majority of his career writing for live television, and with executive producer Lorne Michael’s guidance, this show could be something, well, somewhat special. MULANEY may be a lofty idea for a sit-com and could benefit from some intellect rather than painting in such broad strokes.

Tonight’s Schedule:

7 p.m.THE SIMPSONS
8 p.m. THE SIMPSONS
8:30 p.m.BROOKLYN NINE-NINE
9 p.m.FAMILY GUY
9:30 p.m.MULANEY

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.