The Mayor, premiering Tuesday night on ABC, is set in the fictional, northern California town of Fort Grey (pop. 32,184). A mayoral race is in progress. A struggling, 27-year-old rapper named Courtney Rose has the genius idea of upping his name recognition by getting his name on the ballot. Turns out it’s not that hard to get your name on a ballot: “No. 1, get 200 signatures. No. 2, Don’t be a felon.”
Courtney Rose (played with charm by Brandon Micheal Hall) is in many ways still a child: In one of the show’s early moments, he gets brand-new sneakers and reacts with pure joy. His mother, Dina, is played by Yvette Nicole Brown and she is wonderful. She brings real crackle to all her scenes. When her son tells her why he’s running for mayor, she tells him: “Why don’t you just do it the old-fashioned way, waiting for a nice, old Jewish man to give you a business card?” Later, she gives him a pep talk by reminding him why he became a rapper: “Why do you rap? You rap because you’re a commentator, you’re an observer. You critique the status quo.”
Fort Grey is a blue-collar town where the main focus of dissatisfaction seems to be “The Commons,” a local eyesore. It’s not a gritty show: racial tension might exist, but it’s not the focus. During a televised debate, Courtney Rose displays flashes of sincerity that tell viewers this is more than just a gimmick. He even utters some very heartfelt lines about The Commons and NOT A SPOILER: He ends up winning!
Lea Michele plays a political consultant named Valentina Barella (What. A. Name) who gets on Courtney Rose’s team with hardly a raised eyebrow. Wonder how the dynamics will play out in future episodes? The episode runs 22 minutes, which is too little time to really get into, you know, issues.
There are sharply written scenes, like the one where a little boy playing near The Commons tells Courtney Rose: “You a rapper, like Eminem and Macklemore?” You can’t blame Courtney for looking a little chagrined.
Lea Michele’s character, Valentina Barella, is the kind of control freak it’s easy to poke fun at (She still believes in index cards! As Rose, the newly installed Mayor, tells her: No revolution in history has ever started with the words ‘Index Cards.’) Only one of Rose’s competitors gets real air-time, and that’s because he’s played by David Spade, who’s played smarmy so many times he can probably do it in his sleep.
His two sidekicks, Jermain LeForge (played by Bernard David Jones) and T. K. Clifton (played by Marcel Spears), seem unfazed by all the hoopla and are basically just genial blokes who are content to go along for the ride (as long as they can have a little fun along the way)
The Mayor showcases a more optimistic view of race relations. Valentina Barella may get off a mention of Kellyanne Conway, but she follows it up with a mention of Donna Brazile. This is satire, but done with a light touch (Fort Grey is FICTIONAL. As any Northern Californian knows, people there wear their liberal credentials with pride. )
Points to the show for introducing this new approach.
I wish there was more music, you know? Maybe later. The Mayor IS a rapper, after all. Wish there was a way to weave his musical background in more. In the pilot, he rushes off to perform while an event he’s organized at The Commons is broken up by police because of noise complaints, and his mother winds up getting arrested. It’s not the smoothest way to remind viewers that Courtney Rose is really a musician, not a politician.
I’m vested, though. The writing is sharp, the characters (especially Dina Rose) likable. I’m looking forward to watching them grow into their roles.