Kaitlin Olson Finds a Well-Deserved Star Vehicle in ‘The Mick’

Finally, someone gave her a show!

We meet  Mackenzie “Mickey” Murphy (Kaitlin Olson) during a grocery-store rampage, following the skinny blonde in pajama bottoms and a ratty T-shirt as she tears open packages of food, slides deodorant under her arms, and pours baby powder down her pants. Back in the car, her boyfriend Jimmy (Scott MacArthur) wants to know why he can’t come to her sister’s Labor Day barbecue, an annual affair held at her Connecticut mansion. Mickey doesn’t miss a beat: “Because you’re embarrassing. You embarrass me. I’m embarrassed by you.” “Then why the hell did I drive out here from Rhode Island?” Jimmy asks. “So I could drink,” she explains.

Mickey’s brand of manic depravity will be familiar to fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Olson’s character on that show, Dee Reynolds, shares a lot of DNA with The Mick’s Mackenzie: They’re both perpetually lazy and proudly reckless, with a brashness that alternately masks and emphasizes their vulnerability. It’s a role that Olson was, apparently, born to play.

The Mick, which premiered on New Year’s Day before moving to its regular Tuesday time slot, is a much-deserved star vehicle for Olson, but I’m happy to report it’s not only that. Created by Always Sunny writers Dave and John Chernin, the Fox sitcom is kind of like a network version of the anarchic FX comedy— just swap out Always Sunny’s dilapidated bar full of alcoholic has-beens for The Mick’s Greenwich mansion full of adorable children.

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In the pilot episode, a broke Mickey pays a visit to her sister, Poodle (Tricia O’Kelley), for the first time in many years  — and just before the FBI arrives to cart off Poodle and her husband for tax evasion and fraud. It turns out the richer sister married into money after getting knocked up while working as a topless waitress at a strip club. Now, she’s the mother of three precocious, privileged kids, whom she begs Mickey to watch when the FBI busts her barbecue. “Don’t ruin them!” Poodle cries as she’s stuffed into the back of a cop car. At the end of the episode, she calls to tell Mickey that she and her husband have fled the country. Mickey pours herself a tumbler of red wine.

The Mick’s premise gives Olson plenty of room to stretch. Olson is a gifted physical comedian, and whether splayed out on a king-sized bed, playing video games with Alba, or passed out in the foyer wearing Poodle’s wine-stained wedding dress, she consistently sacrifices poise for gangly discomfort — an extra-disheveled heir to Lucille Ball. Mickey is unlike the prominent female leads of contemporary sitcoms, who are usually driven by a valiant yet wild ambition, a drive that sometimes pushes them too far: think Parks and Rec’s Leslie Knope, 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri, and Veep’s Selina Meyer. Those women are flawed in funny ways, but they’re fundamentally hardworking and determined. There aren’t too many proudly boorish women on TV, which makes Mickey’s selfish quest for a good time weirdly admirable.

Mickey more closely resembles Kenny Powers, Danny McBride’s washed-up baseball player on Eastbound & Down. Like the foul-mouthed Kenny, Mickey is defiant white trash, decadent and poor at the same time. Her move to Poodle’s estate lets her exercise her fantasies of wealth, and she finds an ally in Alba (Carla Jimenez), her sister’s maid.

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Of course, The Mick adds kids to the mix, which both softens Olson’s edge and gently nudges the humor away from Always Sunny’s brutally nihilistic brand of comedy. Mickey gets off to a rough start with her defiant 18-year-old niece, Sabrina (The Night Of’s Sofia Black D’Elia, looking conspicuously 25 — the actor’s age — despite the fact that her character is in high school), and sees her more as a rival than a responsibility. But Mickey’s anything-goes arrogance quickly bumps up against reality, and she finds herself parenting her charges almost despite herself. She begs Sabrina to use birth control when her hunky boyfriend comes over (“It destroys your body and causes crazy mood swings,” Sabrina protests. “So do babies,” Mickey counters.) She shows the youngest, Ben (Jack Stanton), how to steal ice-cream from a cart in the park before he reveals that he has an exclusive Black Card; she tries to give middle child Chip (Thomas Barbusca) — a budding neocon who calls Benihana a “poor person’s restaurant” — advice on how to talk to girls.

The Mick isn’t just an excuse to see Olson slide down a bannister in a wedding dress holding a glass of red wine, but a meditation on the difference between value and values; between throwing money at a problem and actually trying to solve it. Mickey may be a slob and a drunk, but who else is going to teach these prep-school brats how to be decent?

 

The Mick airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on Fox