Ted Danson has a way of classing up even a so-so premise, and so it is with “Mr. Mayor,” a new sitcom from the “30 Rock” tandem of Robert Carlock and Tina Fey. Returning to NBC fresh off “The Good Place,” the show allows its star to cut loose as L.A.’s unlikely new mayor, which is a pretty good place to start.
Granted, the bumbling-politician-and-his-eccentric-staff framework generally feels like a slightly warmed-over version of “Veep,” minus nonstop swearing. There’s also a dollop of heart associated with Danson’s Neil Bremer, a retired billboard tycoon, who ran in order to impress his teenage daughter (Kyla Kenedy) – a sitcom-style subplot the show could probably have done without.
That disclaimer aside, Danson is quite funny in places as the proverbial fish out of water, mystified by the demands of a job that he impulsively sought after the previous mayor abruptly quit. That bit of history might be the show’s most clever stroke, explaining away its absence of Covid-19 protocols in the process – a joke made slightly uncomfortable by news that production was temporarily shut down due to coronavirus.
Premiering with back-to-back half-hours, the first episode dutifully sets up the concept and characters, among them Bremer’s harried chief of staff (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” Vella Lovell), who wonders what she’s gotten herself into; and a holdover from the previous administration (“SNL” alum Bobby Moynihan), basically kept around to have someone to throw under the bus if things get bad.
Much of the conflict, meanwhile, stems from a City Hall veteran, Arpi (Holly Hunter, punching well below her acting weight), who resents having this newcomer in office.
The real hope for “Mr. Mayor” comes during the second episode, when Bremer makes a number of public appearances after an unfortunate pitstop at a pot dispensary. His altered state yields a number of laugh-out-loud moments, and that’s not just the brownies talking.
Like “30 Rock,” the jokes come fast and furious, and there’s a special L.A.-centric vibe to them, made a little less novel by their familiarity. (For starters, distinguishing between second wives and daughters can be a real challenge.)
Thankfully, Danson elevates even the more banal gags, and remains good company if nothing else. There’s also something vaguely reassuring about having him back Thursdays on NBC, which has been his periodic home since “Cheers” opened its doors in 1982.
Granted, many doubtless are less inclined to laugh at the current state of politics than cry. Yet even in the face of that, it’s oddly comforting to see Danson back in a place where everybody knows his name.
“Mr. Mayor” premieres Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.