Netflix's new animated comedy Mulligan wonders what it might be like if we could all start America over again. Would we do a better job or make the same old mistakes? Of course, in this story, America is being rebuilt because an alien invasion has decimated the globe, leaving barely over a thousand people on Earth. Into that leadership void steps a Massachusetts lunkhead named Matty and voiced by Nat Faxon — can this confident dope pull Washington D.C. (and thus America, and thus the world) out of the ash heap of global near-destruction? Maybe, but only in the stupidest way possible. Mulligan is an interesting concept with middling execution; its most intriguing aspect by isn't President Matty but his second-in-command, a Southern U.S. Senator named Cartwright LaMarr and voiced by the great Dana Carvey.
LaMarr's underhanded conservative machinations are rather cartoonish, which is fine since this is a cartoon, after all. With the federal government in literal ruins, LaMarr takes every opportunity to purge this new and emerging nation from "liberal foofaraw." As the tie-breaking vote in a series of 0-0 Senate votes, LaMarr has, by the second episode, already passed laws that say "corporations are people and people are not." He's Mitch McConnell with more spring in his step and no bureaucratic resistance. Creators Robert Carlock and Sam Means have a lot of fun with LaMarr as a Republican caricature, but for the viewer, the pleasure resides in getting to hear Dana Carvey step into the role of a slick conservative politician once again.
It's been 30 years since Carvey departed Saturday Night Live toward the end of one of its golden ages, which produced the likes of Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, Chris Rock, and Adam Sandler. And with the exception of Garth Algar of the "Wayne's World" sketches, Carvey's enduring claim to fame from his tenure on the show were his impersonations, specifically those of President George H.W. Bush and Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot. Carvey's first Bush impression came in 1987, but he really hit his stride as the character during the 1988 presidential campaign, when SNL did two separate debate sketches. There, Carvey honed his take on Bush as a pinched functionary obsessed with talking points and catch phrases.
Carvey played Bush a total of 39 times, including four times after he left the show as a cast member. A George Bush presidential address often served as the cold open, most frequently during the Persian Gulf War. Carvey's version of President Bush was the definitive pop-cultural take on the man and ultimately got the Presidential seal of approval when Bush invited Carvey to perform his impression at the White House.
Perhaps the most famous single sketch of the Carvey-as-Bush era saw the comedian pulling double duty as both President Bush and presidential candidate Ross Perot in a debate sketch where Carvey was on tape as Perot and live in studio as Bush, debating against himself as well as Phil Hartman's Bill Clinton. The 1992 presidential election was fertile ground for SNL, what with Clinton's big personality and litany of scandals. But Carvey owned that entire election cycle with his Bush and Perot impressions. Perot was an eccentric Texas businessman who entered the race as a third-party candidate who ended up playing spoiler to Bush. Carvey's version of Perot was a fast-talking, combative Texan who couldn't stop going on about the sorry state of a country going down the tubes. Perot’s improbable run toward Election Night — where he ended up getting nearly 20% of the popular vote — often seemed like a godsend to comedy more than anything else.
Unlike a lot of political impressionists, Carvey's take on conservative politicians always went beyond projecting stupidity; his impressions found many more idiosyncrasies in his subjects than that. His Bush was an awkward political nerd, stubborn and self-righteous. His Perot spent more time accusing his opponents and the media of bad faith than making any political points. Vice-President LaMarr on Mulligan seems more tapped into the modern era of politics than his Bush or Perot, whose eccentricities were often pointed towards tax policy and free trade. LaMarr's glee at being able to do unobstructed villainy fits better in the era of Mitch McConnell and Ron DeSantis, though the show has other inspirations in mind for the character as well. If Matty is Mulligan's frat-house vision of John F. Kennedy, LaMarr is his behind-the-curtain Lyndon B. Johnson.
Carvey combines all of it — the McConnell and the Lyndon, along with a dash of Foghorn Leghorn — and gives Mulligan its one real jolt of energy. It may not be 1992 again, but some things at least come back around.
Mulligan's first season is available to stream on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Mulligan, Saturday Night Live, Dana Carvey, George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot