The Biggest Massholes in TV History
When aliens from the planet Cardi-B attack earth — quite successfully, leaving just 1,000 or so human survivors — the remaining residents of D.C. have to try to rebuild society. The entire U.S. government has been wiped out, save for veteran South Carolina Republican Senator Cartwright LaMarr (voice of Dana Carvey), who knows exactly who would make the perfect president for the new world: Matty Mulligan (Nat Faxon), the heroic ex-farm team baseball player who threw a grenade in the alien mothership’s vent and ended the attack.
Though it will be obvious to any viewer of Netflix’s new adult animation series Mulligan, premiering today, that LaMarr intends to make Matty — a clod who wears a Red Sox jersey under his wedding tuxedo, steals a generator from the National Zoo to chill his beer and is extremely well-versed in the life and career of Ben Affleck — his puppet in various plans to make the post-apocalypse even more miserable for anyone who doesn’t have power, it’s not obvious to Matty, because he’s an idiot of a very specific variety: He’s a Masshole.
For anyone unfamiliar, “Masshole” is “a term of contempt for a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts” — that’s according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which officially added it to the lexicon in 2015. However, you probably are familiar with it, because the Masshole is a fixture on TV, long predating Matty. Here are eight of the most important Masshole entries in the annals (hold for heavily accented giggling) of TV comedy history…
‘NewsRadio ’s Lisa
We know Lisa (Maura Tierney) as a dogged and very nerdy reporter at New York’s news radio station WNYX. But when anchor Max (Jon Lovitz) offers his speech therapist skills to help cure her sibilant “s,” he also undoes all the work she put in to lose her native Boston accent. Let’s hope this exercise wasn’t too traumatic for actual ex-Bostonian Tierney.
Through more than a dozen sketches, SNL viewers followed Denise “Zazu” McDenna (Rachel Dratch) and her boyfriend Pat “Sully” Sullivan (Jimmy Fallon) on various adventures, typically marked by extremely Bostonian antisocial behavior, and always filmed by their unseen friend Tommy. Though some entries have showcased famously non-Bostonian performers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Britney Spears, actually Bostonian guest hosts of the era really sank their teeth into it.
Naturally, Matty Mulligan’s model for his administration is John F. Kennedy, and is excited to find the late president’s “bra knife” among the surviving relics in the White House. But this isn’t the first time JFK has been represented on an animated series with what is probably less than perfect historical accuracy. Starting in 2002, JFK also appeared on Clone High, voiced by series co-creator Chris Miller, as a teen clone of the original model. Before the show’s long-awaited second season premieres on May 23rd, familiarize yourself with Clone High’s take on the 35th president.
Ronna & Beverly (2009)
Ronna (Jessica Chaffin) and Beverly (Jamie Denbo) are (young) Jewish Boomers who have opinions on a variety of topics. For instance, Chaffin and Denbo’s two-hander comedy appearances have been billed as “seminars” in which Ronna and Beverly hawk their self-help book You’ll Do A Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Re-marriage for Jewish Singles. Before co-hosting a chat podcast on Earwolf from 2011-2017, they made a pilot for Showtime, which they co-wrote with a pre-Orange Is The New Black Jenji Kohan, and was directed by Paul Feig, who would later cast them both in the Boston-set The Heat. It didn’t go to series, but survives as a YouTube treasure.
Because Jack (Alec Baldwin), the, uh, challenging network executive, is from Boston, 30 Rock attacks the city and its residents fairly often — for example, in this scene where Liz (Tina Fey) reminds the viewer that she is also from a city known for its pugnacity.
The Boston material began in earnest in the show’s fourth season with the introduction of Julianne Moore as Nancy, Jack’s high school crush. In “Secret Santa,” Moore’s take on the accent was controversial, but producer Robert Carlock defended it at the time. (Fun fact: Carlock went on to partner with Sam Means, another 30 Rock writing alumnus, to co-create Mulligan.) “Secret Santa” leaves things unresolved between Jack and Nancy, but since her marriage is in the process of disintegrating, she remains so much on his mind that when Liz tries to convince him to take the show-within-a-show TGS to another city to give everyone a break from the most soul-crushing weeks of a New York winter, he suggests… Boston. In keeping with their civic reputation, the Bruins Beat staffers with whom the TGS contingent must share an office are obnoxious and rough.
The Channel 4/Prime Video sitcom Catastrophe doesn’t exactly center its Boston cred: It stars and was co-created by Rob Delaney, a certified Bostonian, and his fictional character Rob Norris is from there, but in the series premiere he moves to London to live with Sharon (co-creator Sharon Horgan) and raise the baby with which he has impregnated her. We basically only see him there from then on until the series finale brings the family back to Boston, and while Rob has a lot of brutish qualities, Sharon does too; Rob’s shortcomings aren’t related to the city of his birth and he doesn’t even really have an accent.
Is Catastrophe only on this list as a pretext to include Delaney’s earlier appearances as Don Drapah in the Funny or Die spoof MA Men? Maybe! You’ll also see Faxon showing off his future Matty Mulligan accent.
‘Late Night With Seth Meyers’ ‘Boston Accent’ Spoof
Released in 2015, the Boston-set Spotlight was a critical sensation. The following year, before it won the Oscar for Best Picture, Late Night with Seth Meyers let its titular host dust off his accent from “Donnie’s Wedding” to play several characters in this spoof trailer for Boston Accent, which savages tropes from The Departed, The Town, Gone Baby Gone, Good Will Hunting and any number of other classics of the Boston film canon.
‘Saturday Night Live’s ‘Dunkin’ Donuts’ and ‘Sam Adams’ Sketches
I don’t want to overstate the timeliness and savage accuracy of “Boston Accent,” but literally two days after “Boston Accent” aired on Late Night, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Set in and filmed around the eponymous Massachusetts town, the future multiple Oscar nominee was both a “richly enveloping drama” (per Justin Chang at Variety) and a Boston accent-athon, particularly for its lead, (Ben’s brother) Casey Affleck. When Casey hosted SNL that December to promote the film’s wide release, writers gambled on his ability to get back into his “r”-dropping character for this commercial parody.
Four years later, Bill Burr hosted. Not long after his SNL turn, Burr’s thick Boston accent would become a matter of public concern when he guested on The Mandalorian, apparently becoming the first Bostonian in space. Burr defended the choice despite pushback from Star Wars purists, and he was right, not only because it’s already dubious that people speak English in the Star Wars universe, regardless of their accent, but also because when he appeared in the first season of Reservation Dogs in the summer of 2021, he tried to do an Oklahoma accent, and he probably shouldn’t have.
But I digress: The “Boston people enjoying Boston product” format worked for Casey Affleck and Dunkin’, and it worked again for Bill Burr and Sam Adams.