Meet the Mayfarers

Many, if not most viewers seeing Meet the Mayfarers for the first time will probably immediately think of The Office. This really isn’t that surprising. The style of NBC’s flagship show – which seems to have become the prototype for uncomfortable humor – easily lends itself to mimicry, especially online.

Still, despite the familiarity of its pregnant silences, cringe-worthy social pickles, and exasperated glances toward the camera, it would be a mistake to dismiss Meet the Mayfarers as simply a web series copycat of The Office for one reason above all others: Mayfarers is a smarter show than its distant television cousin.

The show immediately lives up to its name by quickly introducing its subjects: the truly messed-up Mayfarer clan features a separated mother (Candace Hopkins) and father (John Depew), the latter of which is a sleazy, middle-aged “love expert” who’s currently dating an attractive coed (Jessica Erin Sylvia) three years his daughter’s (Jenna Paone) junior.

Then there’s the estranged son (Todd Norwood, also the writer and director) who’s returned home for his grandfather’s funeral the morning after sleeping with an older woman (Jessica Webb) who turns out to be the gold-digging now-widow of the same grandfather (Paul Patrick Murphy) that I mentioned previously in this sentence.

Got all that? Good, because this tangled collection of characters has just descended upon the family home to attend Grandpa Mayfarer’s funeral – and to duke it out over his inheritance.

It’s been written on this very website that, in order to create some semblance of comedy hit these days (“your very own version of The Office“), all one has to do is arrange for half the show’s characters to be exceedingly clueless, and then have them speak into a camera. While this certainly may hold true for some web series, Mayfarers‘ awkwardness stems not from the hysterically stupid, but rather from the deliciously off-color.

It’s not that the characters are too oblivious to realize the ridiculous scenarios they cause; it’s that they either don’t care or are doing it on purpose. When the estranged husband pulls up in a flashy midlife-crisis-mobile and then cuddles with his foxy new girlfriend in front of his disbelieving wife and daughter, he’s sending the pointed message that he’s moved on to bigger, better, and bustier things. Sadly, this sort of spiteful behavior represents a much more realistic and complex set of motives than those of a ceaselessly dumb character. Fortunately for Mayfarers, it gives the show plenty of fodder with which to wreak entertainingly witty havoc.

It feels that, five episodes into the show’s first season, the dysfunctional family dynamic is really starting to hit its stride. Paone and Norwood interact brilliantly as brother and sister, needling each other over their respective love lives, while Hopkins imparts a sort of absurdist dark comedy to her matriarchal role. In fact, the moment that really cemented the show in my mind comes in Episode 5 when the mother, upon being informed that the pills she’s trying to overdose on are actually calcium supplements, despairingly quips, “Well, it’s the thought that counts!”

Thankfully, this is one show that doesn’t have to settle for just the thought counting. If you’re in the mood for a sharp comedy that kicks “warm and fuzzy” to the curb and doesn’t insult your intelligence, there’s nothing better out there than Meet the Mayfarers.

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