TV Review: Mr. Sunshine

Chandler Bing returned to primetime TV this week.

That's not actually true. I'm sure Matthew Perry isn't interested in us talking about his character from Friends when he'd much rather we riff about how funny! offbeat! and quirky! his new show Mr. Sunshine is. In which he plays a character named Ben, a sports venue manager who's... basically a more serious, toned-down Chandler.

I really want to like this. It stars several of my favorite TV actors: in addition to Perry, we've got Allison Janney, who plays Crystal, the eccentric, whacked-out owner of the San Diego Sunshine Center and displays comedy chops we rarely got to see on The West Wing. She pops pills, has an oil painting of herself in her office, and believes that if John Cougar Mellencamp is going to perform at her arena, she'll presumably get to make sweet love to him.

Plus, there's Andrea Anders, playing a marketing exec and former flame of Ben's. Anders comes here from my beloved Better Off Ted, a show I still put in my list of Top TV Comedies Ever Made, which barely lasted two abbreviated seasons. She demonstrates the same clipped sexiness here that she did on Ted. Funny and charming.

They're all funny and charming. There's no lack of that here. But this show is gonna need more than perfunctory charm to get off the ground. Because the sports arena hosts everything from hockey games to circuses to various capades, theses character must deal with kooky stuff like elephants running amuck backstage, angry life-sized Smurfs, and wayward circus clowns. To which we're presumably supposed to say, "Hey! Chandler's being chased by an elephant! That's crrrrrazy comedy!" But this premise seems to lie flat in the pilot, as do the relationships between the characters. Any quirkiness here seems stagey and a bit forced.

I'll tune in again next week to give them another shot. After all, Perry and Janney have worked very hard to entertain me in the past, on some great shows. I sort of feel like I owe them.

And because I subscribe to the critic's Golden Rule of Don't Judge A Show By Its Pilot, I'll try to be patient and wait for Mr. Sunshine's potential to reveal itself. I hope it does so soon.

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