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As 'Mr. Mayor,' Ted Danson Sustains His Stellar Sitcom Streak

Ted Danson plays a retired millionaire who becomes mayor of Los Angeles in <em>Mr. Mayor. </em>
Mitchell Haddad
Ted Danson plays a retired millionaire who becomes mayor of Los Angeles in Mr. Mayor.

Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the creators of NBC's new sitcom Mr. Mayor, were deep into the run of their hit 30 Rockwhen they came up with a promising idea for a spinoff. How about taking Jack Donaghy, the corporate executive played by Alec Baldwin, and have him run for mayor — and win?

That didn't happen, and Baldwin ended up playing a much more powerful politician, repeatedly and hilariously, on Tina Fey's old stomping grounds, Saturday Night Live.

But that comic concept — of a celebrity mayor surrounded, and often defended by, an eager, yet weary, staff — was too good to let go. After all, it worked for years on ABC's Spin City,with Michael J. Foxplaying the political assistant of a clueless mayor. And Mayor Jack Donaghy wouldn't have been clueless — just arrogant and very, very vocal.

But with Donaghy out, Fey and Carlock dumped the spinoff idea and reshaped it into Mr. Mayor. Where 30 Rock was set in and perfectly captured New York, the new sitcomis set in Los Angeles — and Neil Bremer, the newly elected mayor, isn't a corporate executive, or even a TV celebrity.

Instead, Bremer is a retired millionaire who made his fortune plastering billboards all along Southern California's streets and highways. He's not clueless or arrogant, but he does come to the job without credentials or experience. Ted Danson, the actor who plays Bremer, is the exact opposite – with so many credentials, and so much experience at starring in TV sitcoms, that it's almost ridiculous.

NBC's launch of Mr. Mayorextends Danson's astounding streak of starring in TV sitcoms to five consecutive decades. In the 1980s, he had an 11-year run starring as Sam Malone on NBC's Cheers. In the '90s, he was still starring in Cheers, then began a six-season run as the star of Beckeron CBS. In the 2000s, he finished up Becker and started playing an exaggerated version of himself as a recurring character on Larry David's HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm. He's still doing that. And in the decade that just ended, Danson also starred for four years on another brilliant sitcom, NBC's The Good Place. And now, Mr. Mayor. I'm in awe of that run — not only for its quantity and longevity, but also for its quality.

In Mr. Mayor,Danson takes the spotlight and shines once again, playing a character who's clearly delighted by the job he ran for, and won, on a whim. Mayor Bremer's relationship with his 15-year-old daughter Orly, played by Kyla Kenedy, gives the show as much comic potential as the political workplace. Especially since Danson, as a father frustrated by his inability to connect with his teen daughter, takes the script and sticks every landing on every line — even the absurdly inappropriate toss-aways.

Mr. Mayorhas other secret weapons, too, including Holly Hunter, who begins the series as the mayor's most vocal adversary. She's wonderful. So is former SNL player Bobby Moynihanas one of the mayor's political aides — and, basically, so is this entire show. NBC is premiering two episodes of Mr. Mayoron Thursday, the night once reserved for such great, must-see TV sitcoms as Cheers, which began its run there almost 40 years ago. To start 2021 on a very good note, NBC has done it again. And so has Ted Danson.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.