'The Mayor' plays populist politics for laughs

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
The Mayor (Photo: ABC)

The premise of the new sitcom The Mayor, which premieres Tuesday on ABC, is that a young rapper, Courtney Rose (Brandon Micheal Hall), runs for the mayor of his California hometown mostly as a publicity stunt to jump-start his music career, and ends up winning the election. This concept probably could have justified a TV pilot in any recent year, but after the election of Donald Trump, the perfect storm of a show-biz guy, a populist-minded electorate, and a surprise victory seems downright timely.

This is, fundamentally, the inverse of the Trump story. In The Mayor, a young African-American man campaigns on a platform of unity and inclusiveness. There is a similarity or two, though. The funny debate scenes in The Mayor play off the idea that a guy new to politics is a startling novelty, especially to his establishment opponents. (One of them, played by David Spade, has a campaign run by a go-getter played by Glee’s Lea Michele — who then joins Courtney’s nascent administration.) Also like Trump, Courtney has no idea how to govern or any sense of what the job entails. In the case of the sitcom, this lack of credentials can be played for laughs.

Helping stoke the amusement is Yvette Nicole Brown (Community), who plays Courtney’s mother, and who’s too good to be used primarily as a mouthpiece for the show’s more teachable moments. (Sample dialogue: “You rap because you critique the status quo; maybe now you can change it.”) Fortunately, Brown is one of those performers who can elicit a laugh from a well-timed raised eyebrow — she kind of transcends dialogue much of the time. Hall, who was good in TBS’s Search Party, is very likable as Courtney. Marcel Spears and Bernard David Jones are reliably amusing as two pals of Courtney swept into working for the new mayor. Lea Michele, as always, needs to dial back her aggressive charm by at least 50 percent. The show — executive produced by Daveed Diggs, best known as a co-star of Hamilton and a recurring character on Black-ish — has helped create a novel showcase for Hall’s talent. The degree to which the show succeeds will probably rest on how many viewers tune in and like what they see in Hall’s brash, energetic performance.

The Mayor airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

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