NBC's 'Mr. Mayor' Is A New Yorker's Take On LA, With Help From SoCal Native Vella Lovell
The new NBC comedy Mr. Mayor, starring TV legend Ted Danson as a wealthy ad executive-turned-mayor of Los Angeles, is about a month in. It's the latest from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who've been busy creating a modern TV comedy dynasty following the success of 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
But they've spent a career writing about New York City, so what's it mean when they start writing about Los Angeles?
"It's very much New Yorkers' spin on L.A.," actress Vella Lovell told LAist. She plays Danson's social media influencer-turned-chief of staff.
The show was originally designed as a 30 Rock spinoff following Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy character becoming mayor of New York City. But when Baldwin opted not to do the show, and with Ted Danson uninterested in heading out east, they redesigned the show around Danson — and Los Angeles.
Mr. Mayor was written out in New York, but the writers' room features a team repping both coasts.
"There's definitely a lot of authentic L.A. jokes in there, but also making fun of, lovingly, the Los Angeles culture and ridiculousness," Lovell said.
A recent example of that: in the third episode, a Brentwood City Council meeting featured Chrissy Teigen, Andie MacDowell, and David Spade all as entitled versions of themselves, lobbying to get the city to go put the trash somewhere else.
As the show films, Fey and Carlock spend their days following the action on set via Zoom.
"Which is really weird. But they're on Zoom all day," Lovell said. "You can run over and get a note from them. They're also able to be in a million places at once, so they're both thinking about the current joke, and also a season-long arc for your character, and also where you're fitting in."
It's Lovell's second big Southern California-set show, following Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and its loving portrayal of the Inland Empire — just two hours from the beach, four in traffic. She's enjoyed getting the chance to come back to the West Coast to star in both these shows, lovingly making fun of SoCal.
"I was born here, and I've felt like a homecoming in getting to work out here," Lovell said. "L.A. is such a specific, quirky, interesting place."
The show's top-billed names aren't the most diverse, but the office staff provides some of that L.A. multiculturalism between Lovell and the other top staffer in the mayor's office, Mike Cabellon's Tommy Tomás.
"I'm happy to be representing a mixed woman of color on any show that I'm on," Lovell said. "With TV, you don't get to be with people as they take in the show. I always remind myself that it's going to such a wide audience that that representation does really matter, and can really make a difference. Like when I was watching Saved By The Bell, I was so glad Lisa Turtle was there, and that meant a lot to me."
While there aren't any Latinos in the regular cast, the show is representing L.A.'s half-Latino populace with the help of some guest stars. That includes Lovell's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-star Gabrielle Ruiz guest starring as a PR person for the Dodgers, as well as Natalie Morales showing up this week.
"Bodies are political, so you put people on a screen, and it's saying something," Lovell said. "There's some really exciting guests that we have, and they're able to kind of fill out the diversity of L.A."
The show's first three episodes were filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic, so the last couple have been the first real peek at what it's going to be like for a while as Mr. Mayor settles into filming in a new way.
"I felt so incredibly safe on set, with all the protocols," Lovell said. "To do a comedy that is so light and silly has been a huge blessing. We're in masks and shields, and then we take the shield off for a two-minute, three-minute take, and it feels so good."
Fey and Carlock are known for their dense comedy style, and Mr. Mayor certainly doesn't leave you wanting there.
"Especially with the pilot, it felt like every single draft that would come in had 30 new jokes in it," Lovell said. "I don't know what their brains are like, but it's just a never-ending fountain of jokes."
Trying to keep up with the Fey/Carlock pace left Lovell feeling a bit of impostor syndrome trying to keep up, she said, though Mr. Mayor isn't as off-the-wall as 30 Rock or Kimmy Schmidt. Well, not yet at least.
Lovell's particularly loved playing opposite some of the show's more absurd characters, like Holly Hunter's deputy mayor and Bobby Moynihan's communications director.
Lovell and Hunter's characters "have a lot of fun dynamics as the two women at the head of the administration, that were in different generations," Lovell said. "It feels like we're building this wacky family. I feel like Holly's the mom, and Mikaela's the older sister, totally butting heads in terms of disagreeing about how to do things."
One upside of the pandemic: it's helped the cast grow closer.
"During the time we were in lockdown, we would Zoom every so often, and I feel like we really got to know each other on this level that we probably wouldn't have if we just shot for eight, ten weeks, in the before times. We've worked on the first season for over a year now, so we're all in way deeper with each other."
You can watch Lovell and the rest of the cast and crew working to add to the canon of Los Angeles TV shows Thursday nights on NBC, or Fridays on streaming.