While we all miss Cougar Town for the next ten weeks (ten!), Monica’s Chandler is borrowing her time slot with ABC’s Mr. Sunshine. (Note: if you are a sitcom buff, or Wikipedia frequenter, this show has nothing at all to do with the short-lived spring 1986 series of the same name starring Jeffrey Tambor.) This isn’t Matthew Perry’s first show since Friends; I very much enjoyed his slightly more dramatic turn in the under appreciated Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. With Ben in Mr. Sunshine, which Perry writes as well as acts, he has struck a balance between the two roles, creating yet another memorable guy.
Ben is the manager of an arena that hosts a variety of entertainment, including a circus in “Pilot.” He isn’t very personable. Even the woman he’s been sleeping with, Alice (the wonderful Andrea Anders, who ironically also starred in Friends spin-off Joey), will tell him that. But we didn’t see the totally self-involved Ben much. Certainly not enough to hate him. As the series begins, he’s realizing he needs to be a different person, and it’s time to make that happen. This show is about his journey, and that journey began the same time the series did.
If a man finding compassion within himself doesn’t sound like a funny sitcom, keep in mind that besides Alice, Ben is surrounded by his cluelessly racist boss Crystal (Allison Janney, The West Wing), her incredibly dumb son Roman (Nate Torrence, also Studio 60), possibly homicidal assistant Heather (Portia Doubleday), and eternal optimist Alonzo (James Lesure, Las Vegas), with whom Alice is moving in. Heather is actually a recurring character, as is the janitor “Bobert”(Jorge Garcia, Lost), but both deserve to be upgraded to regular at the earliest convenience, if not sooner.
Other reviews I have seen of this show label it as a slow burner, saying future episodes pick up and are much funnier than the pilot. If so, I’m as optimistic as Alonzo about the show’s prospects, because I loved the first episode. Sure, some of the characters like Heather and Roman seemed a bit one-note, but it was only a 22-minute first episode. They will grow over time. Anders and Perry are pros, already exhibiting well-defined, nuanced characters,
and Janney is always awesome. Her insistence that an Asian kid hand her a trophy at her charity benefit had me dying laughing. Not to mention her song. And the photo op.
The writing and jokes could be less funny, and I’d still tune in to see the talent. I’m glad that’s not the case, though, because others need to tune in if Mr. Sunshine is to retain the decently strong ratings it began with. I certainly don’t want it to replace Cougar Town forever (unlikely, as Cougar Town has already been renewed for next year), but I consider The Middle completely expendable. So, too, are the reruns of Modern Family if ABC commits to a longer, original sitcom programming block, as NBC is doing on Thursdays. I know I want to see more. I’m excited after just one episode!
If you miss Matthew Perry as much as I did, please watch Mr. Sunshine, Wednesday nights at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.