Thanks to The Good Place and a little show called Cheers, sitcom fans already know how funny Ted Danson is. And anyone who has seen Broadcast News, Raising Arizona or Succession is well aware of what a comedic treasure Holly Hunter is. No doubt, this duo is a winning double bill for the new NBC sitcom Mr. Mayor about an out-of-touch billionaire businessman (Danson) who becomes mayor of Los Angeles in hopes of impressing his teen daughter. Like so many Bachelor contestants, he’s not exactly in it for the right reasons, which is why the real MVP of the Tina Fey co-produced workplace comedy might just be Vella Lovell who plays his Chief of Staff Mikaela Shaw.
Lovell isn’t a household name yet (yet) but anyone who watched the musical rom-com Crazy Ex-Girlfriend knows why she should be. As Heather Davis, Rebecca Bunch’s emotionally detached bestie with impeccable vocal fry, she helped her generalize about men and create a Spice World-inspired Friendtopia. (Watch the Netflix animated series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power if you want to hear more of Lovell’s perfect pitch.)
Heather seemed too cool for school, but in actuality, she was too scared to graduate from college, making her long journey to self-actualization all the more delightful. After four seasons of the high concept comedy for theater kids, Lovell proved she had a real knack for making apathy endearing and hilarious — a real plus when working with Fey.
On Mr. Mayor Lovell is once again indifferent to her elders, but she can’t be totally detached. After all, someone has to make sure Danson’s Mayor Neil Bremer (Danson) doesn’t try to speak Spanish again. (“It’s not my fault pero means ‘dog’ and ‘but,’” he tells Mikaela during a Sorkinesque walk-and-talk.) The ambitious, but inexperienced politico doing it for 'Gram — the former campaign manager didn’t actually think he’d win — is the one who is tasked with turning Neil into a better leader. Think of her as Parks and Recreation’s April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza, high priestess of the apathetic) if she had Leslie Knope’s job. After seeing Mikaela’s work attire, she might even convince you to ditch your work sweats for a more structured office look. That’s how good her fits are.
Lovell’s got style but the self-proclaimed (on Twitter) actress, cat lover, and owner of one accordion, which feels like the right amount of accordions to us, has got range. In the rom-com based on Kumail Nanjiani’s real life, The Big Sick, she plays Khadija, a woman Kumail (played by the real Kumail) is set up with by his parents. It’s a “girlfriend” role, but the emotional weight Lovell brings to it makes it something more memorable. Who among us hasn’t felt, like the “bruised apple at the bottom of the barrel" while trying to navigate the dating world?
Ultimately, Khadija is the one who convinces Kumail to stop apologizing and follow his heart, despite his family’s misgivings of an intercultural relationship, and manages to steal ours in the process. She shuts down his “it’s not you, it’s me” line in a heartbreakingly brutal way that leaves you hoping not only that Khadija will find a partner to take to the cat cafe, but that Lovell will get a role that is more worthy of her talents.
It’s why Mr. Mayor, an off-kilter comedy with a lot of heart, feels like a great showcase for her. It could even be her breakout role, which might be why I can’t get her signature Crazy Ex-Girlfriend number, “The Moment Is Me,” out of my head. It’s a big inspirational musical theater song that is so not Heather’s jam, but it feels rather fitting for Lovell.
To paraphrase that very meta tune: Lovell is the moment, the moment is her. Now, we suggest you make the time to watch her shine. Though, be warned, a half hour episode of Mr. Mayor will leave you wanting more. Lucky for us, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is streaming on Netflix.