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As Mr. Mayor finds "Respect In The Workplace," it also finds itself as a show

Illustration for article titled As Mr. Mayor finds "Respect In The Workplace," it also finds itself as a show
Graphic: NBC
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With both last week’s “Dodger Day” and this week’s “Respect In The Workplace,” Mr. Mayor currently feels like the show it was always* meant to be. More importantly, it feels like the show it was expected to be, all things considered. Bizarre, mile-a-minute jokes. Deranged goofs who also sort of care about each other... in between all of the physical pain they cause both themselves and others. A strong sense of what the series is actually about from scene-to-scene. While “Dodger Day” felt somewhat like a happy accident after the previous episodes, with a follow-up like “Respect In The Workplace,” it almost feels safe to say that Mr. Mayor has finally chosen a lane. And if it hasn’t, then this episode suggests that this is the lane it should choose.

*Well, maybe not “always,” as it was originally supposed to be a 30 Rock spin-off set in New York, starring Alec Baldwin reprising his role as Jack Donaghy. But you know what I mean. 

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While a substantial amount of this episode takes place in one location, “Respect In The Workplace” is not a bottle episode. (Words have meanings.) Still, the episode gets things done in a way that bottle episodes often do for sitcoms, as it ultimately confines its characters into a single room to allow things to really come to a head. There have been plenty of moments where two or three Mr. Mayor characters find themselves crossing paths to frantically discuss what’s going on in their orbit, but those moments are mostly like ships passing in the night. There’s just something to having everyone in the same story—even as they have their own subplots, like the rush for Food Truck Day and trying to unpack a “vibe”—to play off each other for an extended time that helps solidify who these characters are and who they are to each other. (Arpi is essentially a sounding board that Bremer rarely listens to at this point. It works, even if we’re still supposed to buy that they’re at odds, professionally.) That’s something that’s been crucial for Mr. Mayor and something that Tina Fey’s script for this episode succeeds in showcasing. In fact, that’s why Mikaela and Tommy doing something nice for Jayden to close out the episode lands, without feeling like an unearned, overly saccharine moment.

As Fey’s script forces all of its adult (and Jayden) characters into one plot and one room, it also manages to capitalize on the show’s standard Bremer/Arpi and Mikaela/Tommy dynamics. Obviously, Bremer/Arpi has been heavily established at this point, but this episode follows up on what “Dodger Day” did for Mikaela/Tommy, both as individuals and a duo. In the case of Mikaela/Tommy, that means finally getting a sense of who they both are, which is especially necessary in an episode where all of the beats from scene-to-scene are, well, the logical result of knowing who these characters are. “Respect In The Workplace” plays with a lot of expected beats—from the delay in partaking in Food Truck Day to Bremer slowing down the session to Jayden (the most respectful and sensitive character) passing** the test to Arpi (and Mikaela, teaching us who this character exactly is) finding a way to be too feminist for it all—without feeling predictable. It also does so while being laugh-out-loud funny, from its messy beginning to surprisingly sweet end.

**While that is expected, once it’s revealed that he cheated, it’s... also expected. Because there’s no world in which Jayden passes any test. 

All of this also comes together with the help of a great guest star in the form of Natalie Morales. While it was nice to see Gabrielle Ruiz last week, Morales gets more to do here as discussion leader Susan, taking all of these characters’ “quirks” for as long as she possibly can before she finally breaks. Susan gets it from all sides, as she’s immediately introduced to Jayden’s awkwardness—which doesn’t ping any warning signs, as he’s clearly the best of the worst—before getting right into Arpi’s desire to be praised for her trailblazing and Bremer’s intense analyzation of the video material. (Bremer’s initial note—about the filing system in the first video making no sense—is an early taste of what this plot will become, as it peaks with the reveal that the whole team thinks these videos follow a single narrative, like a film.) The chaos truly is the key, especially as Susan (and Fey’s script) lands on what makes these characters work: “[They] are the lowest functioning, most self-absorbed group [she has] ever had.” Susan yelling at them—with “ice lollies”*** on her pepper-sprayed eyes—to “think of other people” works as a battle cry that, for the show’s comedic-sake, will most likely never be heard for longer than an episode-ending tag. Especially when the show doesn’t include the otherwise atonal bit that is Bremer (or the rest of them, when the plot calls for it) thinking of “other people” in the form of Orly.

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***“These really do help.”

As Fey herself wrote this episode, there is also a sense of some sort of Tina Fey Inception point, particularly when to comes to Arpi’s role as a trailblazing white feminist turned “Karen.” Arpi’s struggle with feeling out of touch and forgotten is both understandable and absurd (especially as the episode progresses), and it’s something Holly Hunter makes a meal out of, on both fronts. It’s easy to worry about the fact that it’s paired with Fey writing more of the millennial, “too woke” jokes that she and company have been criticized for plenty of times before, but here, there’s a happy medium. In fact, when Susan gives her rant, her criticism of Mikaela is just as much about how she doesn’t need to take it upon herself to educate the rest of the team (as the responsibility is on them) as it is her needing to understand that being compassionate doesn’t mean being complicit. Both Arpi and Mikaela are two extremes of two different generations, but there is a sense of understanding present in “Respect In The Workplace” that eliminates any mean-spirited nature that could easily exist in the comedy of these extremes.

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Now, I know it’s repetitive to say that the “brilliant” “fix” for Mr. Mayor is simply to get rid of the kid, but these past two episodes have solidified just how superfluous the Orly character and the family sitcom aspect of the series really are. As I noted in “The Sac,” while Bremer’s reason for running for Mayor boiled down to how Orly sees him—which, technically, is a motivation that should be a big part of the series—that doesn’t mean the Bremer/Orly (or anyone/Orly) plots fit into this show. In the pilot, the fact that Bremer’s political ideas came from Orly’s student government ideas created an interesting dynamic for the series, especially when you consider how unqualified Bremer is. Unfortunately, that dynamic only existed in the pilot. There was no Orly mention last week, and nothing felt off. This week, Bremer mentions that he’s taking the workplace training session seriously because he has a daughter, and honestly? That’s all the Orly that’s needed. We really don’t need to check in on her and whatever teen issues she’s having. And as Mr. Mayor has realized that in these past two episodes, at least, the pacing and flow issues have suddenly disappeared, the series has a focus, and characters like Mikaela and Tommy finally feel like characters.

Plus, it’s just distracting when it comes to thinking about Bremer being Orly’s father and not grandfather, especially when that’s somehow not the joke of it all.

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Stray observations

  • Susan: “Well, your program has been a great base for us to work off of.” The way Arpi stares at her after she says that? Holly Hunter is a gift.
  • While Bremer was distracted by the filing system in the first workplace video, I found myself distracted by the prominent bowl of apples in all the videos.
  • Bremer: “Boy, this is a—”
    Arpi: “Don’t say it.”
    Bremer: “—scary time for men.”
  • Tommy: “No. Not possible. I don’t fail tests.”
    Mikaela: “Uh, I’ve lived all these examples, I could’ve written this test.”
    Arpi: “I DID WRITE THIS TEST! And dammit, Susan, I hate to be the one to say this, but… I’d like to speak to your manager.” Oh, Arpi.
  • When listing all the tests he’s passed, Tommy brings up a Buzzfeed quiz that said he’s “Rachel from Friends.” You know, some people wouldn’t actually consider that “passing” when it comes to a Friends Buzzfeed quiz. But I would.
  • Susan: “Alright. So who—if anyone here—should be reported to Human Resources?”
    Arpi: “The guy who asked his co-worker’s age.”
    Tommy: “The horrible woman who hit the man!”
    Mikaela: “Um, everyone. Forced celebrations produce anxiety, the concept of birthdays is systemically pro-life, and singing discriminates against peopleee liiike mee, who caan’t siing. And frankly, Barbara’s agreeing to all this makes her complicit.”
    Bremer: “I thought they were having a nice time.”
    Susan: “...okay!”
  • As this episode makes clear that Mikaela can’t sing, it seems like we’re just nipping things right in the bud for any hopeful Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fans watching the show. So, as tribute to when we were allowed to have Vella Lovell sing, let’s kick it back to “Let’s Generalize About Men”—which feels appropriate—real quick.
  • Arpi: “Smiles don’t mean jack. I mean, women also smile in social situations that make them uncomfortable. Susan knows there are five distinct female smiles.” It is a very good thing that we get to see Holly Hunter do all five smiles.
  • I’ll admit it: I laugh every time someone on this show does a terrible impression.
  • Mikaela (re: Jayden and the food truck food): “Why does he have all those soups?! No one ordered soups!”
  • Jayden: “I’m a nice boy who doesn’t touch anyone. Yet every creepy guy in this pamphlet looks exactly like me.”
    Mikaela: “I thought that was you.”
  • Wow. There really was a vibe...
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.

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