'Mr. Sunshine' Season 1, Episode 5 Recap
by Joel Keller, posted Mar 10th 2011 11:00AM
['Mr. Sunshine': 'Crystal on Ice']
'Mr. Sunshine' is getting the full recap treatment this week, mainly because 'Modern Family' was a rerun but also because I wanted a little more room to dive into why this show is such a frustrating one to watch.
Why is it frustrating? Because, as I've said in my "Moment" posts, there are elements of a pretty good show here. Matthew Perry and the writers have decided to concentrate heavily on the arena workplace and the folks who work there. Some of the supporting characters have already exhibited endearing quirks, while others are on their way to becoming interesting. And they've decided to dispense with a potential will-they/won't-they situation which was only going to drag the show down.
But the show suffers from two big problems. First, the writers too easily fall back on silly sitcom situations for B-stories. But the second problem is much bigger: Ben, the character played by Perry, is the least funny person on the entire show.
Maybe Perry wanted it that way. He's the star, and the show is largely based on a character with much of Perry's personality. But he's also the executive producer, and he knows that the show will be more successful if he's not carrying the comedic load every week. Right now, though, the character of Ben Donovan seems to be either reacting in surprise to his wacky boss and co-workers or just being dour and snide.
I can understand why the writers wanted to scale back a bit on the "sarcastic loner having a mid-life crisis" aspect of Ben after the pilot; it's a bummer of a topic to examine every week. But by concentrating on the workplace and the supporting characters, we don't know much about Ben after five episodes besides the fact that he's a loner and he likes his job.
For instance, we already know that Crystal is pained over never connecting with Roman, her lug of a son, and why she seems to have such a burning hatred for skating Smurfs. We also now know that Roman, who seems like a simple guy who loves candy and playing video games, somehow knows how to balance the books of a complicated business like an arena.
Even the less fleshed-out characters are starting to develop some depth. Heather, Ben's firestarter assistant, not only has a complicated relationship with her sister, but really likes Roman and will defend her boss if called upon. Alonzo might be the nicest guy in the world, but he'll still lie and hide a failed marriage to Alice because he didn't want it to ruin anything between them. Even the guy who walks around the arena all day in the mascot suit has some character, as he's only supposed to work a few hours a week. The guy just likes being furry, for reasons I don't even want to contemplate.
Alice, played by Andrea Anders, is probably the least-thought-out side character for now. Except for 'Better Off Ted,' she's been underutilized in sitcoms, portrayed as the pretty blonde that's the object of someone's desire and not much else. At least here, the writers wisely decided to ditch the Ben/Alice friends-with-benefits relationship and explore her struggling to establish something with Alonzo, despite her perception that she's not good enough for him.
Most of the funny moments this week involved Crystal and her Smurfophobia, though hearing Heather and Ben do an exchange playing on how they're "smurfed" if Crystal keeps the skaters from practicing was also fun to watch. But I also loved the montage where Ben and Roman bond over video games, "cup hands" and Truth or Dare. (What the hell is in Ben's hair there?) That scene and some others show me that Perry and company are trying to develop a quirky, Bill Lawrence–esque sensibility for 'Mr. Sunshine,' and that's not a bad direction to go in.
Of course, watching Allison Janney skating around with a huge Papa Smurf was a pleasant surprise and a nice way to end the episode. People who are only used to seeing Janney in dramas like 'The West Wing' might be surprised to see her commit so fully to being a silly character like Chrystal. But I've seen her do a great job as a guest on shows like 'Frasier' and as in movies like 'Juno,' so its fun to see this other side of Janney on a regular basis. Let's just hope the writers don't lean on her so much that her antics overwhelm everyone else's stories.
'Mr. Sunshine' is a show that should be given at least a puncher's chance of finding itself, and I wouldn't be surprised if ABC does just that. Its ratings have been steady if unspectacular, but there is no drop-off from what 'Cougar Town' got in that slot. And it wasn't long ago when 'Cougar Town' was that show that was funny but frustrating to watch. They managed to turn things around pretty quickly, and 'Mr. Sunshine' can hopefully do the same.
'Mr. Sunshine' airs Wednesdays at 9:30PM ET on ABC.
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