Mr. Sunshine is a new sitcom with a great premise and a deep, talented cast. Even though the pilot wasn’t great, I’m willing to bet that the show will grow into a reliable source of amusement.
Matthew Perry plays Ben, the manager of the Sunshine Center, a sports and entertainment complex in San Diego. The pilot takes place on Ben’s 40th birthday, a fact Ben would rather nobody knew. Ben is also dealt a blow when a co-worker named Alice (Better Off Ted’s Andrea Anders) decides to end their commitment-free relationship and move in with Alonzo, an unrealistically optimistic ex-NBAer who works for Ben.
Ben’s talk with Alice, and a similarly dispiriting pep talk from his pill-popping boss Crystal Cole (the amazing Alison Janney, aka C.J Cregg from The West Wing), leave him questioning his admittedly selfish philosophy.
(Oh, and he’s also frantically trying to melt the ice from a hockey game before the circus starts, looking out for a stray elephant, keeping his boss from being publicly outed as a racist loon, and trying to find a suitable job from her emotionally stunted and naïve son, Roman.)
Pilots typically take on a lot of weight, as they have to really set the stage for what’s to come. Mr. Sunshine has a lot of balls in the air, and drops very few of them. (Crystal’s fear of clowns, a sitcom cliché, leads to a scene which is almost too ridiculous to actually be funny.)
What I especially liked about the show was its realistic take on Ben’s personality shift. This is no Ebenezer Scrooge transformation. Instead Ben is sort of pretending to be nice, and hoping the real feeling will come along later. It’s kind of like the Jesus Prayer in the “Zooey” section of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. It’s also an intriguing way to allow Ben to be both sympathetic and mean.
It’s interesting that one ex-Friends star’s success seems to come at the expense of another, as Mr. Sunshine is pushing Cougar Town off the schedule for the next two months. I’m cautiously optimistic that Cougar Town will be back, and that Mr. Sunshine is here to stay. It’s hard to imagine ABC resisting an opportunity to have Chandler and Monica (partially) re-united on their airwaves.