The Mullets

[24 September 2003]

By Kristen Kidder

Party in the Back

Although only in their mid-20s, Dwayne and Denny Mullet have already charted their path toward the American Dream. Together, the brothers plan to expand their fledgling Reseda, CA roofing business into a contracting gig, which will hopefully lead them to construction. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to casino operators and “all around real estate moguls.” Then comes sports team ownership, hot young trophy wives, and political power.

This frantic burst of Mullet planning takes place on the roof of one of Dwayne and Denny’s customer’s in the opening scene of The Mullets series premiere. As the excitement over their envisioned future reaches a crescendo, the boys lose their footing and tumble, one after the other, onto the ground.

Of course they do.

One part Roseanne, two parts Farrelly Brothers, The Mullets relies heavily on sight gags (derived primarily from the boys’ “business in the front, party in the back” hairstyle) and socio-economic stereotypes to get laughs from its audience. Dwayne and Denny love NASCAR and wrestling. Their mom shotguns beer. And they apparently spend their free time eating hotdogs at the local convenience store and watching porn. In Dwayne and Denny’s opinion, the three sweetest words in the English language are not “Miller Genuine Draft,” “Bacon Double Cheeseburger,” or even “Pamela Anderson Mullet” (all suggestions offered by their friends) but “Girls Gone Wild.”

Despite its abject celebration of all things trailer park, The Mullets actually sports an impressive television pedigree. Producers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein are the masterminds behind America’s longest running prime time family, The Simpsons and Dwayne and Denny are portrayed by Michael Weaver and David Hornsby. Their parental figures are sitcom giants John O’Hurley (Seinfeld‘s Mr. Peterman) and Loni Anderson.

The premise of The Mullets is relatively simple: Dwayne and Denny struggle to expand their roofing career, court the girl-next-door (who is also a clerk at the local convenience store) and adjust to their mother’s recent re-marriage to Roger Heidecker (O’Hurley), local celebrity and host of the fictional game show “Quizzardry.” The latter actually makes up the crux of the show’s comedic drive—as the boys’ stepfather, the delightfully erudite Heidecker is poised to give Frasier and Niles Crane a run for their money.

In the series opener, Dwayne and Denny show up for their mother’s black tie birthday event clutching a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and front row tickets to Wrestlemania. Although their stepfather and his cronies are horrified, the boys’ mother applauds the gesture and the whole clan is soon ringside, despite the fact that Heidecker “prides himself on being the sort of person who doesn’t like wrestling.” In fact, he’s the one in for an education: while trying to enlighten the boys about the complex choreography involved in professional wrestling, he’s pulled into the ring and body slammed. As he’s being taken away on a stretcher, Dwayne and Denny remark that their new stepfather sure knows how to impress their mother. Brawn triumphs over brains, for now.

Unsurprisingly, the comedic impulse of The Mullets rests on the iconography of its title haircut. As the many websites devoted to the style will attest, the mullet has become synonymous with an entire lifestyle, one that is largely marked as “lower class white.” As www.ratemymullet.com maintains, mullet-wearers are commonly thought to have a proclivity towards: “extreme agression [sic], desire to consume large amounts of alcohol, pedophilia, lack of hygeine [sic], dramatic reduction of inhibitions (often bolstered by the consumption of alcohol), sense of paranoia and distrust towards authority/governmental figures, and most importantly—steadily decreasing IQ levels.” Dwayne and Denny fit the bill.

Aside from reinforcing class stereotypes, The Mullets does serve a very specific purpose for UPN: the program is part of president Dawn Ostroff’s plan to homogenize the network’s image in order to compete with the WB. The network is reportedly looking to cultivate an audience of 18-34-year-olds who are bold, adventurous, and fun” (“Mullets only part of UPN makeover,” Statesman.com, 21 August 2003). As this attempt to “diversify” depends on the mockery of a class of people, the question arises: just what audience is UPN attempting to land? Those who would tune in to ridicule the haircut, or those who sport it themselves? Perhaps both? As UPN’s line-up includes shows like World Wrestling Entertainment, The Mullets might offend the network’s own.

But perhaps Ostroff’s quest for “diversity” concerns representation rather than audience. With the vast majority of television programming centering on the exploits of those who are middle-to-upper class, Dwayne and Denny’s blue-collar world does mark a refreshing change in trend. Maybe, here, the mullet is merely a vehicle for bringing this often overlooked demographic to life. Somehow, I doubt it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/mullets/