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An endearing pop-up talk show

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An endearing pop-up talk show

Los Angeles isn’t the first city fans associate with comedian John Mulaney. That would be Chicago, his birthplace and the setting for countless childhood anecdotes in his stand-up act, or New York, where he broke through as a writer on “Saturday Night Live” and recorded a special at Radio City Music Hall. But LA is where Mulaney lives now; it’s also currently home to the second iteration of Netflix Is a Joke, a massive weeklong comedy festival organized by the streaming service as a show of genre dominance. (Netflix stand-up head Robbie Praw did the programming at Montreal’s famed Just for Laughs event and actually created a West Coast version.) And so we have “John Mulaney Presents: Everybody’s in LA,” a special event from a week that combines studio segments, pre-recorded sketches and man-on-the-street interviews into a kind of pop-up talk show.

“We’re only doing six episodes, so this show will never be a success,” Mulaney warned during the opening monologue, delivered from his temporary home base at Sunset Gower Studios. True to its word, the broadcast – the latest of Netflix’s recent experiments with live programming – had some visible hiccups, including sound problems and a palpable rush through the final stretch to wrap up the show around the hour mark. But the awkwardness only added to the charm of an inherently contradictory endeavor: a hyper-local show about a vast patchwork of neighborhoods that is also a global event with major superstars, an oxymoron captured nicely by conservationist Tony Tucci, who shares a couch with Jerry Seinfeld.

Mulaney describes LA as ‘a city that confuses and fascinates me’. The outsider’s perspective, which makes the show’s premise somewhat counterintuitive, also provides the necessary distance for a sharp point of observation. Besides the obligatory jokes about improv and the general state of downtown, there’s a sense of lovingly attentive detail in a “House Hunters” parody starring a group of comedians exploring a potential hype house in Van Nuys, plus the fascination with a transplant in the episodes of the episode. unifying theme of coyotes, with viewer-submitted anecdotes requested over the dial-in line. If the woman who microdose during her daily walk through Griffith Park didn’t exist, Mulaney’s writers would have had to make her up.

A lot of the Los Angeles stories fit old Mulaney motifs like true crime. (On ’80s serial killers like the Night Stalker: “They had cool names and cool branding, but that doesn’t mean what they did was right.”) “Everybody’s in LA” itself is in line with the artist’s embrace of somewhat old-fashioned, or simply different formats. Mulaney’s last project before the pandemic was “The Sack Lunch Bunch,” a children’s sketch special that marked a delightfully unexpected left turn after a string of well-received stand-up hours. His high-profile divorce and experience with substance abuse necessitated a semi-denominational turn with last year’s “Baby J,” but “Everybody’s in LA” finds Mulaney back on more comfortable ground: a throwback vehicle for exploring deeply personal hobbyhorses, self-effacing but yet smoothly composed master of ceremonies. After receiving rave reviews for his performance at the Governors Awards, there was widespread speculation that Mulaney would win the Oscars. “Everybody’s in LA” continues to prove that the comic is suited for a bigger, perhaps more sustainable job — and also that a smaller stage is a better venue for its idiosyncrasies.

With its wood paneling, warm earth tones and spacious houseplants, the studio for ‘Everybody’s in LA’ is a ’70s-inspired nod to artists like Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. Character actor Richard Kind, himself a New York dignitary, takes on the traditional role of sidekick and counters that the dystopian delivery robot Mulaney brought to the stage is stealing the jobs of hard-working candy couriers like his own father. At a time when classic talk is increasingly endangered – rest in power, “The Late Late Show”; long live “@midnight” – it’s equally endearing and disorienting to see the medium’s past come back to life as a novelty. Still, segments spotlighting real-life eccentrics, like a Hollywood billboard worker or a man fishing in Echo Park Lake, felt distinctly contemporary and could capture the curious, humanistic style of How to with John Wilson’ channeling.

It is Mulaney who weaves this grab bag together. Interviewing Jerry Seinfeld about his Netflix-produced Pop Tarts movie on a Netflix-produced talk show might have a touch of corporate-mandated synergy, but the exchange is animated by the appearance of Will Ferrell in the role of hard-partying record producer Lou Adler. (“You brought your amazing rehab craziness to this show,” Seinfeld marveled.) Meanwhile, no one could mistake musician and entrepreneur Ray J for a mandatory shot, especially as Mulaney courageously navigated sensitive topics like his ongoing divorce. Much like ending the episode with a musical performance, the interview can feel a little destabilizing. But the show is so rooted in a specific vision that the next five editions are an easy sell. Everyone may be in LA, but not just anyone can bring these people and topics together.

The first episode of “John Mulaney Presents: Everybody’s in LA” is now streaming on Netflix, with the remaining episodes airing live from May 6 to 10 at 7pm PT.