A quirky TV special has young co-stars and gets their dark sense of humor. On the surface, Mulaney is making something retro, evoking ''Sesame Street'' and ''3-2-1 Contact,'' with its homemade sets -

Beeping and blooping auto design, and old school animation, not to mention its casual conversations between adults and kids.

John Mulaney doesn't adjust his wry standup sensibility or dumb down his references to be inclusive as those classic public television shows. Early on, he sits with a bunch of 8- to- 13 year olds, one of whom asks him what the tone of the show will be,.

Mulaney looks confused. So another girl clarifies : ''Is it ironic, or do you like doing a children's show?''

Mulaney responds that he does like it, but then levels with them in a quieter voice : ''Honestly, if this doesn't out great, I think we should be like, 'It was ironic,' and people will be like, 'That's hilarious' ''

''John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch,'' a charming foray into kids entertainment by the stand-up comic, now on Netflix, begins with a quote from one of the real Housewives :

''Do you know who tells the truth? Drunks and children.''

Nonsense, Kids lie all the time. They can be cruel, sure, but just as often kind. And while some say the darnedest things, many kids just spit out banalities.

Every cliche about young people is wrong because they are an infinitely diverse group, even more so than adults, whose eccentricities have often been socialized out of them.

It's a testament to how much respect Mulaney has for the audience his audience that you might wonder if the introductory quote was a joke at the expense of the real Housewife. For he has made a special that works hard to to not condescend to children, sometimes to a fault.

In a season when pop culture panders with noisy space battles and singing cats, Mulaney offers  counter programming, a quirky variety show with modern Broadway sensibility.

At its best, and most fully realized, it feels like a program made by unusually sophisticated precious children for their friends.

 As a host of these songs-and-dance filled sketches, Mulaney projects what might called a kid's idea of grownup, which is to say, something like a local news anchor : smoothly confident, assured, slightly indifferent.

He's Mister Rogers, if he cared more about showbiz than kindness.

But he's really a supporting character here, and the stars are these charismatic kids, who, in one of the unifying devices of the special, speak directly to the camera about their greatest fears [home invasion clowns].

The World Students Society thanks author Jason Zinoman.


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