John Mulaney Should Walk Away From His Perfect Live Show

Did John Mulaney’s live series Everybody’s in L.A. actually happen, or was it a strange, shared hallucination? Ever since the show’s finale on Friday, I’ve asked myself that question over and over again. For six nights on Netflix, Mulaney did the seemingly impossible, cranking out a late-night talk show that actually felt fresh and surprising.Netflix

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Did John Mulaney’s live series Everybody’s in L.A. actually happen, or was it a strange, shared hallucination? Ever since the show’s finale on Friday, I’ve asked myself that question over and over again. For six nights on Netflix, Mulaney did the seemingly impossible, cranking out a late-night talk show that actually felt fresh and surprising.

Netflix has struggled for years to create a live TV show worthy of being called “appointment television,” and the verdict from critics seems to be that, by gum, Mulaney has done it. The only question that remains is the obvious, what now?

Years ago, Netflix seemed determined to kill live television as we knew it. Now, however, the streaming giant is singing a different tune. The platform began to play with live streaming last year, debuting both a live Chris Rock special and a disastrous Love Is Blind reunion. But lately, it’s gone all-in. In February, Netflix aired the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and since then, we’ve also gotten the currently airing live show Dinner Time Live With David Chang. Alongside Mulaney, last week also debuted Netflix’s hugely successful live Tom Brady roast and Katt Williams’ live special Woke Foke.

At a time when streaming bundles are basically reinventing cable, it feels fitting that Netflix—once the poster child for the cord-cutting, schedule-free content revolution—is now essentially trying to recreate the magic of extemporaneous viewing. And how better to do that than to find its own take on one of TV’s most classic formats, the late-night talk show?

Everybody’s in L.A. is by far the closest Netflix has come to producing a late-night series that actually demands appointment viewing. For now, however, it’s unclear whether this little experiment was meant to be a flash in the pan or, perhaps, to tease something bigger. As a diehard Mulaney fan, I’m personally hoping he never makes another episode.

“We’re only doing six episodes,” Mulaney quipped during his first episode, “so this show will never find its groove… Whatever happens, we’re done May 1src, which is awesome, because there is nothing I like more than being done.”

Anyone who’s ever watched a Mulaney stand-up special likely read that entire quote in his theatrical, sing-songy voice. From beginning to end, Everybody’s in L.A. felt quintessentially “Mulaney.” His announcer, Richard Kind, plays his character Andrew’s father on the animated Netflix series Big Mouth and also appeared in the bizarre variety special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch. (Kind also made a memorable appearance in the widely lauded Documentary Now! Episode “Original Cast Album: Co-Op.”) Much like Sack Lunch, Everybody’s in L.A. was also decidedly, disorientingly off kilter.

Episode after episode, the comedian gathered the most random groups imaginable—like, in one episode, Sarah Silverman, Elvira, the hypnotist who helped him quit smoking, and a child dressed up as “Lil’ George Carlin”—to discuss topics like palm trees, the paranormal, and coyotes. Sometimes, the topic of the night felt like a way into more poignant matters—the helicopter episode, for instance, had more than a little discussion of O.J. Simpson—but for the most part, it was all refreshingly random. Stitched in between these conversations were pre-recorded sketches (some of which mocked existing late-night gambits) and live call-ins that further heightened the unpredictable energy.

Put together, the final result felt too surreal to be believed. Was any of this real, I’ve wondered, or did the last tether between myself and reality finally snap, setting loose all of the detritus floating around in the back of my subconscious? Mulaney is not the only late night host to experiment with the format in bonkers, sometimes mind-melting ways—just ask David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Chris Gethard, among others—but the outlandishness of the content, combined with the fact that it was airing on Netflix (Netflix!) felt like a special kind of mind-melting weirdness.

But should it continue? Part of me wants to scream “yes!!!” from my couch out of sheer, morbid curiosity. How long could this thing stretch out, I wonder, and how would Mulaney riff on the core idea, if given the time and space to do so? At the same time, the more I sit with the possibility of a longer-term Everybody’s in L.A., the more convinced I become that extending its run could dull the enchantment.

It’s one thing to make a wild show like this for a week and entirely another to get stuck coming up with bits for weeks and weeks on end. In order for a longer version of this show to work, Mulaney would need to feel sufficiently motivated and inspired to keep the momentum going and avoid falling into slumps. Maybe he does! But if he doesn’t, viewers would start to feel it quickly. Depending on the frequency, an ongoing late-night obligation could also hinder the comedian’s ability to work on new, even more innovative ideas. Why squander the opportunity to see what the next Everybody’s in L.A. or John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch or Oh, Hello could be, just so that Mulaney can keep replicating something he already did?

Evolution has been central to Mulaney’s appeal as a comedian and celebrity. He famously wrote for Saturday Night Live while establishing himself as a stand-up comedian. And in addition to his stand-up specials and shows like Documentary Now! and Big Mouth, he’s also done Broadway with Nick Kroll, as the two play a couple of weird old geezers in Oh, Hello. With each new project, Mulaney has further expanded his celebrity identity to capture even more of his idiosyncrasies, his fascinations, and his humanity. This is especially true after Baby J, in which he laid his squeaky-clean image to rest after a very tumultuous early pandemic.

All of this to say, Mulaney seems to do his best work when he’s trying on something slightly new—be it a new format, persona, or aesthetic. As wonderful as it might be to see what Everybody’s in L.A. might become, I’m more curious to see what this brilliant comedian might do (and who he might become) if he keeps exploring.

That said, if we do get more of this zany show, I will most certainly be seated promptly at 7:src1 PM PT.

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