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October 13, 2015

Review: 'Mr. Sunshine' Puts Matthew Perry in a Dark Place

by Maureen Ryan, posted Feb 9th 2011 10:15AM
'Cougar Town' fans looking for their favorite comedy on Wednesday night are in for a surprise.

'Mr Sunshine' (9:30PM ET Wednesday, ABC), which is taking 'Cougar Town''s slot for a couple of months, does star a former 'Friends' actor, but it doesn't exactly go down as smoothly as a glass of delectable pinot noir.

'Mr. Sunshine' is Chandler noir, if anything. Perry's 'Sunshine' character, arena manager Ben Donovan, is more or less Chandler Bing, older, not much wiser and in a lonely place.

The sarcasm that Perry knows how to play well is front and center in 'Mr. Sunshine,' which isn't a surprise: Like Courteney Cox of 'Cougar Town,' Perry is essentially playing a modified version of his 'Friends' character. But 'Mr. Sunshine' isn't particularly hilarious or endearing, and the comedy doesn't surround Perry with a balanced ensemble of characters who get to be funny as well. The other people on the ABC comedy are mostly there to set up Ben's weary one-liners, but a little of his cynicism goes a long way.

There's also an strained mixture of tones in the show's pilot: 'Mr. Sunshine' keeps trying to mitigate Ben's dark side with aggressive wackiness from his boss, Crystal (Allison Janney). Not surprisingly, this odd mixture doesn't really gel.

Crystal owns the arena that Ben manages, and she's your basic high-maintenance, chemically altered, self-absorbed wackjob. Janney is clearly having fun in the role, but it's too broadly written to really work, especially next to Ben's deadpan condescension. There are a few low-key moments that work between Ben and Crystal in the pilot, but otherwise the characters feel like they're from different shows.

None of Ben's other co-workers stand out, though Allison Anders and James Lesure are fine in mostly thankless straight-man roles. Nate Torrence, on the other hand, is quietly effective as Crystal's dazed, socially inept son.

'Cougar Town' found its way by jettisoning much of what didn't work about the show's premise, and there's a chance that, with defter writing, 'Mr. Sunshine' could develop into a pleasing ensemble comedy about a bunch of mildly maladjusted people. It's worth noting that, as was the case on 'Friends' and 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,' Perry is capable of moments of surprising seriousness and sweetness. It wouldn't hurt for the show to draw on those qualities more.

But something tells me 'Mr. Sunshine' would have been better going full bore in one direction -- toward serious cynicism or toward mild wackiness -- without trying to jam those things together in one awkward package.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

Watch the full episode here:

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I really liked the pilot myself... I was really surprised to see Portia Doubleday on this show as the secretary that lit a man on fire!

February 10 2011 at 3:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I liked the pilot very much! And enjoyed Matthew Perry once again! He is a terrific actor with great sense of humor... can't wait for the next episode!

February 09 2011 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Aaron D

I saw the pilot. I thought it was alright... it's always hard to judge a show just on the pilot. It was funny how much of the cast and crew was carryover from Aaron Sorkin projects (most notably Studio 60, on which almost the entire cast of Mr. Sunshine has appeared).

February 09 2011 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You mean Andrea Anders?
Proofreading people. If we get someone's name wrong in my business, it can cost millions...

Having her in this show only enhances my feelings that this stupid network should have just kept "Better Off Ted" instead of trying to replace it with something inferior.

February 09 2011 at 11:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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