Reel Estate

Reel Estate: In Mulaney's New York, there IS such a thing as a spoken-word lease

By Virginia K. Smith | December 18, 2014 - 9:59AM

When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, we look at some of the more memorable domiciles to grace the screen.

It seems like nearly every sitcom about young-ish people has its characters living in New York—or at least, a version of New York—usually with varying degrees of realism. (Broad City's at one end of the spectrum, the already-canceled Manhattan Love Story's at the other.) Another bizarre, disappointing example to add to the pile? Mulaney, the self-titled new sitcom starring (the usually on-point) comedian John Mulaney.

As you do in the world of TV, all the characters live in suspiciously large apartments, and inhabit a world populated by salty old neighbors and unemployed friends who turn up unannounced. Unsurprisingly, the show has drawn a lot of Seinfeld comparisons (though even Jerry's fictional apartment wasn't as huge as John's). 

John lives with two roommates, Jane (Nasim Pedrad) and Motif (Seaton Smith), and in one episode, things get a little dramatic when Motif realizes he's not on the lease. Since they're not willing to commit, he assumes that John and Jane are planning to kick him out. As this dispute unfolds, there are actually some valid points raised—namely, that if a third person is added to the lease, the rent will inevitably go up. (Most landlords will take any excuse to up the rent, and another person signing onto the apartment is as good a reason as any.) 

As a means of consolation, John and Jane make a candlelit offer to Motif, giving him the option to take over the apartment's cable bill.

Motif isn't interested (who would be?), so eventually, John and Jane go to one of the building's oddly frequent tenant meetings to ask to have him added to the lease. Their neighbor Oscar (Elliot Gould), who heads up the association, turns them down on the grounds that "we can’t put three people on your lease. Legally, your apartment is a junior one-bedroom with a walk-in icebox. Even two people is pushing it." Fair enough.

But things unravel from there: John tells Oscar that he and Jane won't be on the lease if Motif isn't allowed on, but Jane says she'll stay, leading Oscar to make (and approve) a motion to transfer the lease to Jane and Motif, and two elderly neighbors wind up dragging John out of the meeting. A world where leases could be updated or transferred without so much as a signature or a security deposit changing hands is either terrifying or liberating, depending on your perspective. But it's definitely not a world that exists.

Check out the full episode below, and consider how much nicer you'd be to your landlord if they could boot you from the apartment at a moment's notice (and without a paper trail):



Reel Estate: Everybody knows a "roommate" like Broad City's Bevers

​Reel Estate: Keeping up with Khloe Kardashian's rental budget

Reel Estate: Manhattan Love Story's puzzling housing setups

Reel Estate: Home Alone 2 and its brownstone-turned-battleground

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