MR. SUNSHINE “Pilot” Advance Review

MR. SUNSHINE “Pilot” Episode 1 (Series Premiere) – ABC introduces a new comedy in Cougar Town‘s place tonight with MR. SUNSHINE, in which Matthew Perry stars as Ben Donovan, the sarcastic, self-absorbed manager of the San Diego Sunshine Center sports arena who uses his fortieth birthday as a springboard to notice the world and people around him and maybe bring a little, yes, sunshine into his closed-off life.

Mr. Sunshine plays directly to Matthew Perry’s strengths: with his snark and patented pained expressions, Ben in the pilot is essentially a forty year old Chandler if he hadn’t had his friends. That is a double-edged sword because while Perry plays this character well, there is a been there done that quality to it, so I hope the premise that Ben is going to evolve and redeem himself holds, leading to a less Chandler-esque character.

Conversely, Allison Janney will make you completely forget she was ever C. J. Cregg on The West Wing. She is tremendous as Crystal Cohen, the whack-a-doodle, pill-popping stadium owner with no self-editing button. Whether she is bantering with Ben, running away from clowns, or having a lucid and surprisingly poignant moment, Crystal is my favorite part of Mr. Sunshine. She would be a terrible boss, let alone mother, but that’s what makes her such fun.

The rest of the cast is strong. Andrea Anders (a moment of silence for the late, great Better Off Ted) is as endearingly charming as ever as Ben’s friend with benefits while James Lesure amuses as the overbearingly positive Alonzo. Nate Torrance plays Crystal’s geeky but dim son with gleeful abandon and Jorge Garcia (Hi, Hurley!) is so much fun guest starring as the head of maintenance whose name Ben can’t remember even though his ID is clearly hanging from his neck that he should be promoted to series regular.

It’s a good thing the cast is so great because the writing needs some work. The pilot has promise, and I like the snark, dry wit, and occasionally wistful tone, but it’s also unfocused with a few too many “look how wacky we can be” moments. The Ben-Alice relationship is handled rather clumsily and I wish the pilot as a whole were more cohesive. All of this can be typical of a pilot, so I’m certainly not writing the show off, especially not with this group of actors.

Some of my favorite lines:

“Two years ago you said you only wanted to hear me say yes. It’s tricky because you don’t always ask yes or no questions.”

“Clowns terrify me. Are they happy? Are they sad? Why are their pockets so big?”

“They don’t do oil paintings of people who don’t own things, Benjamin.”

“You’re right to clap because these are all very strong ideas.”

“Well, she did light him on fire, so he’s not great.”

“Actually, your English is pretty good. And oh, no.”

“What bothers me is I thought we were the same. When you said you were emotionally broken, I believed you.”

There’s a lot to like in Mr. Sunshine: the cast, the seemingly endless comedic possibilities offered by setting the show at an arena, the fact that Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” gets a shout-out. Hopefully the rougher spots will be smoothed out and the writing tightened, letting the best parts of the show shine. I may not be totally sold yet, but I’ll definitely be tuning back in.

After you’ve watched the series premiere of Mr. Sunshine tonight on ABC at 9:31pm eastern/8:31 central, I hope you’ll post what you thought. Is this a worthy replacement for Cougar Town or will you be counting down the weeks until Courteney Cox takes the time slot back from her friend?

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