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August 31, 2015

'Mr. Sunshine' Moment -- Ben Doesn't Know Anyone's Names

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 3rd 2011 11:00AM
'Mr. Sunshine'
Remember when I said that 'Mr. Sunshine' was getting better? Well, maybe I was wrong. This week's episode had so much unfunny sitcom schtick -- Crystal's a racist! Ben uses insulting word games to remember co-workers' names! -- that it was hard to watch.

What was interesting about it, though, is that it explains what happened to a joke that was sliced out of the pilot, something I mentioned after the revamped version finally hit the air. Not only did the joke get resurrected in a cleaned-up manner, but it also became the jumping off point for the episode's entire main plot.

Considering the way the episode turned out, maybe they should have just left the joke in the pilot.

The joke was that Ben, the guy who manages the entire Sunshine Center, is so self-involved that he can't bother to remember the names of the people who work under him, especially the guys in the maintenance crew. In the pilot, the joke was that he'll just call everyone Luis or Jose or some other Latino name. Of course, not only did the joke look extremely callous right at the beginning of the pilot episode, but it could have been construed as borderline bigoted.

So, after a couple of episodes where it's established that Ben is trying hard to be a better person and relate better to others, the joke comes back. Only now he's attempting to call the maintenance guys by name in order to get the air conditioning fixed. He first addresses Robert (Jorge Garcia), who he called "Bobbert" in the revamped pilot, then tried to address the others by name. He just gives up and says that he's calling everyone Steve.

"My name actually is Steve," pipes up one of the maintenance guys.

"Well, that's a win-win for you, isn't it, Steve?" says Ben exasperatedly.

It's one of those scenes that's supposed to be so uncomfortable it's funny, but Matthew Perry just comes off as looking insufferable here. Ben tries to redeem himself by getting to know everybody's names using a mnemonic where he uses his co-workers' initials to describe their worst features, but of course he's found out. That's what happens on TV, right?

What's frustrating about 'Mr. Sunshine' is that Perry and his producing partners have something here: a winning cast, a unique setting, and enough flashes of smart comedy to make you think that the show can go somewhere. But the show relies on old-fashioned sitcom tropes way too often, especially for such a new show. Perhaps it just needs time to find its footing, like most comedies do. Let's hope Perry and company find their sweet spot sooner rather than later.

'Mr. Sunshine' airs Wednesdays at 9:30PM ET on ABC.

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