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Mr. Mayor finds some much-needed balance as it places "Hearts Before Parts"

Illustration for article titled Mr. Mayor finds some much-needed balance as it places "Hearts Before Parts"
Graphic: NBC
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“Hearts Before Parts” may be a saying that Mayor* Neil Bremer just makes up to remind his daughter Orly about all the (many) times he’s taught her about sex, but it’s also an integral component of what makes this episode of Mr. Mayor work so well. Of the constant internal battle (workplace sitcom versus family sitcom) that the series has going on, this is the episode (that fully includes both components) with perhaps the most obvious separation of proverbial church and state, with barely any bleedthrough between the two worlds. That separation is especially glaring—in an absurdly funny way—when Bremer brings Nicole (Missi Pyle) to his office, immediately after his staff runs off to do their whole thing.

*Yeah, he’s the Mayor.

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Yet somehow, with such a clear separation of plots, it all works. It’s not a surprise the workplace sitcom half of the plot works, especially as it’s both a tried and true co-workers-to-friends story and another “Respect In The Workplace”-style combination of (nearly) everyone being given something to do. But it is a surprise for the family sitcom half to work as well as it does, especially so divorced from the other half. And “Hearts Before Parts” ends up providing the show’s best argument so far for the father-daughter dynamic to be so prominent (outside of the way it affects Bremer’s political career). It’s especially surprising as the Bremer/Orly A-plot even veers “dangerously” into TGIF-meets-The Parent Trap territory at a certain point. That certain point is specifically the scene where Nicole meets Orly, which thankfully doesn’t go on for too long before Bremer realizes what his daughter is doing. That realization is, of course, due to her reaction to Nicole (who Bremer has had a thing with for years) not realizing that Bremer is the Mayor.

Or, in Nicole’s mind, works for the Mayor.

The biggest reason this plot works so well is because of what it pivots into for the elder Bremer. (Unfortunately for Orly, while her father gains catharsis out of this plot, she… does not.) Once again, Mr. Mayor strikes gold with a guest star to the point where it’s difficult to not just wish they’d stick around. Sure, Missi Pyle’s “age-appropriate” Nicole makes perfectly clear all the reasons she isn’t the one for Bremer to try and enter into a serious relationship with… but would that she could stick around, solely for the vibes and comedy she brings to all of this. (And the fact that I want to know more about her father’s secret family.) It’s obvious as soon as Bremer tells Orly that Nicole now thinks their relationship is more serious that that’s not the case, which leads us to Pyle’s big scene, with Nicole dumping Bremer, psychoanalyzing him, setting him on his new personal path, and leaving us wanting so much more. This allows Bremer the aforementioned catharsis—and Ted Danson to have another great scene partner to play off of—that allows him to seek out a real relationship for the first time in eight years.

But, again, the biggest reason the family sitcom plot works here isn’t because of the younger half of that equation. While it’s really nice to see Orly help her dad out in the end, the plot is missing the part where they actually sort things out and we get any of Orly’s thoughts on her father dating for the first time in her life. Because while Bremer comes to the realization (with Nicole) that he’s been using Orly as an excuse not to get serious with anyone and to sneak around, the last scene we see between father and daughter before the conclusion is Orly freaking out over the fact that her dad’s been hooking up with women this whole time. While it’s fun for the emotional work of this plot to be done in the scene with Nicole, Nicole isn’t the character sticking around past this episode. Mr. Mayor clearly wants to tell this home and work-life balance story, but in making the home part of the story about a 72-year-old father to a 16-year-old girl, it really has opened itself up to a number of issues in telling said story.

This week’s B-plot is also a pretty standard story, though the runner of the trivia host’s (Kurt Braunohler) horrible relationship with his children is definitely its own thing. But “Hearts Before Parts” plays with the character combinations and established dynamics by doing something as simple as pairing up Tommy and Arpi against Mikaela and Jayden. It’s two previously unexplored relationships, though Tommy and Arpi immediately deciding to pair up—despite rarely interacting—together makes sense based on what we know about these characters so far. After returning to obscurity last week, Tommy is allowed to exist once again here. This episode, “Dodger Day,” and “Respect In The Workplace” all feel like the key to fully cracking the Tommy code—and it’s now clear that this character, in particular, is only as strong as the character dynamics he gets to play off of. Tommy and Arpi getting antagonistic over being terrible at trivia is just as strangely on point as Arpi showing the different types of smiles for women in “Respect In The Workplace,” as they both embody two of the most annoying trivia partners you can have: the one who “knew that one” after it’s already been answered by someone else and the one who no one will ever “let” answer.

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And while this is a co-workers-to-friends story, it’s extremely refreshing that it doesn’t start as a way to just pile on Jayden. That the catalyst for this story is the other three realizing that it’s Jayden’s very sad 40th birthday and deciding to go to the restaurant of his choosing is something that, even a few episodes, wouldn’t quite track. So when Mikaela ends up taking credit for the wins and she and Jayden fracture—and then all four of them decide to face off in trivia—it doesn’t come across as more of Jayden being a comedic punching bag. Instead, it’s clearly the result of the absurd “power” corrupting. All of that on top of Jayden being a surprise trivia savant feels like it’s Mr. Mayor finally being right in the pocket when it comes to this character: He’s weird, but he knows things. So when he brings his stuffed animals (so, unlike Mikaela, he didn’t come alone) to the final trivia showdown, it feels “normal;” as does Mikaela reacting negatively to the gossip he’s telling these stuffed animals.

While “Hearts Before Parts” is pretty much the epitome of Mr. Mayor being two completely different shows, Amina Munir’s script does what no other script has done so far: It actually finds balance in these two different shows. So while Danson is separated from most of the cast, he still gets great stuff to do with both Kenedy (in what is—even with its issues in sticking the landing for the Orly character—the show’s best father-daughter plot so far) and Pyle. The balance here is in terms of both the plot and the comedy, which allows the cast to really just go for it in both halves, whether going for “it” involves revealing all of your sexual trysts (or “slurshing”) to your teenage daughter or fighting over a brand new glow-in-the-dark samurai sword.

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Stray observations

  • Just to be clear, I have no problem with TGIF or The Parent Trap, but considering how standard both of this week’s plots are, it really sticks out when one of them is something you’d expect to see in ‘90s programming for children. Though I suppose there is something to a kid in 2021 thinking this kind of plan is new and inventive. Also, Kyla Kenedy does well in that scene (“Is it scary to be in love?”), especially as someone who was just recently on (and was great on) a “TGIF” show, ABC’s Speechless.
  • Bremer: “Nicole is a very nice, age-appropriate lady.”
    Arpi: “She’s young enough to be your daughter.”
    Bremer: “I’m rich and it’s L.A.” This is actually the least L.A. joke-heavy episode of the series so far, but this is a very good one.
  • Bremer (reading Orly’s text): “‘Wow, Dad. Nice photo, hypocrite.’”
    Jayden: “Who’s it from?”
  • Jayden: “Porgis again?! My birthday wish came true!”
  • Tommy (storming off): “Fine. Forget. I don’t even need another bassoon.”
  • I still never quite know how this show wants us to see Orly, but I do know that no teenage girl in 2021 knows who Cheryl Tiegs is, even if their dad is 72. “Who’s Cheryl Tiegs?” was a question from TV teens when I was a teenage girl.
  • Mikaela (after “playing” the bassoon): “That was ‘Shallow.’ By Bradley Cooper and Stefani Germanotta.” Honestly, Mikaela is a treasure.
  • Nicole: “You’re in my phone as ‘Short Neil.’”
    Bremer: “You have a taller Neil?”
  • Nicole: “And you’re still just hooking up? You’re, like, 60.”
    Bremer: “...yes.”
  • Hehe. City “Bulget.”
  • All four of them having four very different interpretations of what “seniority” means when it comes to the budget is honestly one of the most surprisingly clever bits to come from the show so far.
  • Technically, both Pyle’s Nicole and Braunohler’s Jax could return to the show. Hopefully they do. And hopefully Jax listens to Jayden’s parental advice because the kid knows what he’s talking about.
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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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