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The Brilliant, Hilarious Mayne Street Returns

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It's back. Finally. The glorious, Emmy-nominated Mayne Street webseries from ESPN returns today for Season 4. Life, once again, is good.

The webisodes star the too wonderful Kenny Mayne in the deeply-emotional and taxing role of 'Kenny Mayne,' a fictionalized version of himself and his life at ESPN. Well, we can hope it's fictionalized. Mayne has made a career in recent years spoofing himself and sports reporting in general, notably to TV viewers through his "Mayne Event" features on ESPN Sunday, getting pro athletes to come in on the gag. And Mayne Street leaps from that into the netherworld.

Each webisode follows his generally-clueless efforts to survive at ESPN, certain that he is brilliant and doing everything better and smarter than everyone else, oblivious that the only thing keeping him from falling off the edge of the earth is his put-upon, weary and harried producer, terrifically played by Alison Becker. One webisode, for example, has Mayne's three-person team (that includes their conspiratory theory-minded cameraman, Video Cowboy, played by Jon Glazer) on their way to cover the Beijing Olympics, when things hit a snag and Mayne decides to do his reports from New York City's Chinatown instead, figuring that no one will know the difference.

The series was created and smartly-written by Todd Pelligrino and Josh Shelov. In 2009, it even received an Emmy nomination for "Outstanding New Approaches - Sports Programming, short format." It's filled with real-life celebrities playing themselves, from ESPN personalities behind the scene, such as Linda Cohn cramming her face in front of the camera to spout her favorite line from a Robert DeNiro movie, to Ben Stiller punking a sycophantic Mayne and much more.

Kenny Mayne is probably an acquired taste for some. Over the years on ESPN, his persona is gentle, pushy, and so dry it makes the Sahara Desert look like a rain forest. He's in on the joke, yet the butt of it. You're never quite sure if he's arrogant, snarky and nuttier than a box of cashews, or the kindest person you'd want to meet. To me, he's smart, terrific and a riot. And I did get to meet him, several years ago when I was working on the movie "BASEketball," in my previous life doing PR. Mayne and Dan Patrick came in to film for one day, and both were a pleasure - but Kenny Mayne in particular was warm, open, ingratiating and utterly kind, even to the point of telling some clearly personal and moving stories to total strangers, simply because they'd expressed interest. And he listened as closely to others in return.

To go into the range of webisodes of the strange universe that is Mayne Street would not do it justice. Occasionally one of them will fall slightly flat, but that's what happens when you always put yourself out on such an always-risky limb. For the most part, you enter this little world and get sucked into dearly wanting to believe that this is hilariously how things really are and you wouldn't want it any other way. They include the day when Kenny decides to communicate only by Twitter - including on his "SportsCenter" broadcast, and when he and his team do a Very Special Episode with a sick child that goes very wrong. There's his discovery of the truth behind Curt Schilling's bloody sock, how he deals with cutbacks at ESPN, and the night Mayne's broadcast team gets comped by Bobby Flay at his restaurant.

In previous seasons, we've also met the arrogant to a fault boss at ESPN, Evan Mintz (played by Ben Schwartz chewing up the scenery), and his very smart, deeply ambitious to a fault assistant Robin (an excellent Aubrey Plaza), who is one of the few people at the network who completely understands what a total clod Mayne is, making her a relentless nemesis to his producer, who she sees as a rival.

When we last saw Robin in 2009's season finale, she had a bit of a comeuppance, reassigned by ESPN to a much colder climate. And this season, former boss Mintz is now in ESPN Asia, with a new hard-news tyrant to replace him.

The new season can be found on the Mayne Street webpage along with links to the "Top 10 episodes."

Or check out Seasons 2 and 3 in full, on YouTube.

Where Season 1 is, I don't have a clue. But then, that's so "Mayne Street." It's probably out in the ozone, with Kenny.

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