It occurred to me while I was watching ABC’s new series Mr. Sunshine that I don’t like Matthew Perry very much. In the show, he plays a snotty, self-absorbed jerk that manages an arena. It is not all that different from his most famous role, as Chandler Bing on Friends, except that he had the dim-witted Joey and the intellectual yet socially inept Ross standing at either side, and worlds apart. Chandler’s behavior was tolerable, if not quite endearing, because he had these extremes that could bear the burden of his unlikability.
Yet on Mr. Sunshine, Perry’s character Ben Donovan is surrounded by people as jerky as he and, more unforgivably, they stink of the Xerox ammonia from which they tried to copy 30 Rock. Think about it — Donovan is forced into utter bemusement by the insanity of his co-workers, much like Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. He runs an arena, she runs a comedy program. She has to deal with a boss that has never met a liquor format he didn’t like. He has a boss (played by Allison Janney) that never met a pill she didn’t swallow. The parallels don’t stop there, but I will.
See, that’s the point where Mr. Sunshine loses me. In the premiere, they just did not know when to quit, and if everything has to be wacky, wacky, wacky, then nothing gets to be funny. It all just collapses on itself like a five-car pile-up.
I will say this much however: I don’t think the show is beyond redemption. It just needs a lot of pacing enforcement. A few slow-burn jokes can do as much as the rampaging elephant that skulked around the periphery of the debut episode. Pilots and first-season shows, in my observer’s estimation, are usually too concerned with establishing the role-types too fast, laying the eccentricities on as thick as Marshmallow Fluff just so you know, ah, that’s the crazy one, that’s the substance-abuser, that’s the vapid narcissist, that’s the ultra-positive, chillaxed dude that’s going to blow like Vesuvius before the season’s up… There’s so much spelling-out going on, maybe, because producers don’t feel they have enough time to fully establish a real and interesting characterization. Why use a match if you have a flamethrower slung over your shoulder?
If they give Perry something more to do than to stew and gripe, kvetch and mug for the camera in disgust, and they let the characters be less like caricatures, it could become something I’d watch again. It’s not such a disappointment that I’d immediately write it off, but I can’t say I’m hankering for more exposure to Mr. Sunshine.