ABC’s Mr. Sunshine ended its freshman run last night with “Ben and Vivian,” which I feel is probably its best episode yet. Things really flowed well, and chemistry was improved by the addition of a great guest star. While a decision about renewal has not yet been handed down, things aren’t looking that great for the series. That’s too bad, because like many new sitcoms, I think Mr. Sunshine just needs a little time to really work out the best road map for itself. Obviously, the cast is terrific, and the setting is fun and unique. If any new bubble show this year could use a second chance, I vote for this one.
One change I would like to make, should Mr. Sunshine get a second season, is to make Lizzy Caplan (Party Down, True Blood) a series regular. Caplan guest stars this week as Vivian, Crystal’s (Allison Janney) new assistant. She falls into bed with Ben (Matthew Perry) the night before she begins work, and once they realize they now inhabit the same office, begin a friends with benefits relationship. Ben falls for her, but she rejects his need of something more.
Ben’s growth through season one has focused on his ability to get in touch with emotions and forge a real relationship. When we meet him, Ben is in a similar benefits deal with Alice (Andrea Anders), but she breaks it off. I guess it’s appropriate that, at the end of the season, his place in the pairing is reversed. The fact that he passes up Vivian’s offer to continue the sex and forget about his plea for a real coupling shows that Ben is making progress. That is why, more than anything, the series should be renewed.
I have to mention quickly that Andrea Anders is a constant delight. It’s the little things, like the recurring bit where she opens Ben’s door and catches the ball he has thrown, that set her apart. Everything she does just lights up the screen, and after numerous good sitcoms she’s been involved in (Better Off Ted, The Class), it’s time she is featured on a genuine hit.
My argument for more Caplan doesn’t stem just from her interaction with Ben. Her best bits are as she befriends Roman (Nate Torrence). Rejected once more by his mother, Crystal, Roman turns to Vivian to fill his needs. She does, enjoying her time spent with him. In fact, the only reason she even agrees to do anything with Ben outside of sex is so she can be close to Roman. While I did not sense a romantic attachment between the two, Caplan returning could lead to some fun jealousy stuff for Roman’s crazy girlfriend, Heather (Portia Doubleday), a definite argument for bringing her back.
Roman, like Ben, has grown. He is introduced as a bumbling idiot who just wants love and affection from his mother. Crystal continuously lets him down, and it comes to a head in the final episode. Crystal once more chooses another man over giving Roman attention, but instead of taking it, Roman snaps back. With Vivian and Ben in his corner, (and Heather, though we don’t see her here) Roman has built up enough self-esteem to standup to her, declaring he is tired of hearing her say she’s going to be a good mother; she needs to start acting like one.
This could be a real turning point for Crystal, who has resisted growth, even though she frequently talks about it. I love Janney, and her character is a kooky fun mess. However, I do believe there are real emotions underneath her facade, and yet no one is willing to dig deep enough to get to them. Roman has the ability to be the first. Renew the show so we can see more of this great pairing!
The one character I’m not crazy about is Alonzo (James Lesure). Generally, his purpose in being on the series seems to be to keep Alice and Ben apart until Ben can grow into a mature man worthy of Alice. I actually could see Ben and Alice not ending up together, but I expect the series will want to toy with the idea of the two as a couple again before they drop it.
This week, Alonzo is actually given a story that has nothing to do with Alice. Dave the Mascot (David Pressman) tests Alonzo’s legendary kindness and patience by taking over his office. He keeps pushing Alonzo’s buttons, and when Dave loses Alonzo’s zen garden rake down his costume, Alonzo snaps. Is the zen garden the only thing that keeps Alonzo sane? More can be explored about why he is the way he is, and what it takes to set him off. I want to see some dark secret come out. I’m not arguing to get rid of Alonzo, but give him more to do, and more depth.
I won’t say this is currently the best sitcom on television, or even in the top five. And I know that a fabulous cast does not guarantee a great series (I’m looking at you, Private Practice!). But there are plenty of flashes of greatness in season one of Mr. Sunshine, and I think a second season could potentially be much improved. Please give them the chance, ABC!