Matthew Perry’s new show Mr. Sunshine made its debut in ABC’s best showcase time period for a sitcom: Following Modern Family. The show that usually occupies that spot, Cougar Town, starring Perry’s former Friends co-star Courteney Cox, has certainly benefited from this slot. But I think following Modern Family may have emphasized one of the potential weaknesses of Mr. Sunshine: Sunshine radiates as much clouded irony as Family does its sunnier disposition. Tonally, Mr. Sunshine is off — not in keeping with the kind of zippy chipperness a lot of viewers want to see right now. Even Cougar Town had to course-correct in its first season, and go from being a fraught desperate-single-woman series to a fizzy, wine-fueled party-show to keep itself afloat.

Perry plays Ben Donovan, a San Diego sports arena manager who’s harried, lonely, a wiseguy, and the sort of person to whom other people find no trouble saying, “You only think about yourself.” It’s a big deal that Ben has just turned 40 and isn’t in a stable romantic relationship, even though he has the opportunity with marketing director Alice (she’s played by the unironically sunny Andrea Anders, late of Better Off Ted).

Ben’s boss, the owner of The Sunshine Center, is Crystal Cohen, played by Allison Janney, going for oblivious wackiness in a way that seems designed to make you forget she ever played the highly sensible C.J. Cregg on The West Wing. Impulsive (“I see that John Cougar Mellencamp is playing here next Wednesday,” she told Ben this night, “I’d very much like to make love to him”), pill-popping (“I’m crazy high right now”), and neglectful of her grown son (the puppy-dog-like Nate Torrence), Crystal is always on the verge of causing some public-relations nightmare that Perry’s Ben is going to have to forestall, I’m guessing, just about every week.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t seem as though the character Perry had the most chemistry with was the one he spent the least amount of time with, the last-minute-addition Jorge Garcia from Lost?

I don’t think Perry — as an executive and writer behind the scenes of Mr. Sunshine as well as its star — should have to alter the premise or mood of his series if he doesn’t want to. He has said he’s playing “a slightly exaggerated version of myself,” and he’s got the comic instincts, talent, and experience to put on the kind of sitcom he wants. I just wonder whether a Ben Donovan who’s even less “beaten down” that he was originally conceived is someone with whom viewers want to spend a lot of time.

I’m rooting for Perry. After doing a fine job on a good but flawed, high-profile flop – that would be Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip – Perry merits another chance. If Courteney Cox can keep Cougar Town alive and Matt LeBlanc can survive the disaster of Joey with the cleverness of Showtime’s Episodes, surely there’s a place for Perry on the TV landscape. Even with Nick Jonas as an upcoming guest star.


What do you think? Will you give Mr. Sunshine another shot?

Twitter: @kentucker

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