Tuesday, February 08, 2011

ABC Mid-Season Pilot Review: Mr. Sunshine - Premieres Feb. 9; Hallmark Acquires Frasier, Lifetime Loses Frasier

Better With You

Mr. Sunshine - Wednesdays 9:30PM ET/PT on ABC
Premieres Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 9:30PM ET/PT

Matthew Perry stars as Ben Donovan, a self-involved manager of a San Diego sports arena, the Sunshine Center, where curious mishaps and bizarre requests are nothing more than ordinary. Working alongside him is his boss and arena owner Crystal, attractive, powerful and highly erratic; Alice, the cute, tomboyish marketing director and Ben's friend with benefits; Alonzo, a former basketball player, handsome and unbelievably happy; Ben's assistant, Heather, pretty, sweet, but terrifying because she once lit a boyfriend on fire; and Crystal's son, Roman, sweet-faced, clueless and Ben's newest employee.


Cast Details:

* Matthew Perry as Ben
* Allison Janney as Crystal
* Andrea Anders as Alice
* James Lesure as Andy
* Nate Torrence as Roman
* Portia Doubleday as Heather

Matthew Perry (Ben) is the manager of operations at the Sunshine Center. His worldwide audience will be happy to know he is returning to series television as the star, co-writer and executive producer of Mr. Sunshine. Perry is perhaps best known for his Emmy-nominated role as Chandler Bing on Friends, and has shown his diverse talents in a range of projects since the series concluded after ten years. In 2006 Perry returned to series television to star in Aaron Sorkin's NBC drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, in a role that was written for him. Earlier, in 2005, he took his talents to the athletic arena as he hosted the 2005 ESPY Awards. The broadcast earned the highest rating in the 12-year history of the ESPYs. He also received an Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Joe Quincy on The West Wing.

Allison Janney (Crystal) is the owner of the arena and the big boss. Displaying astonishing versatility with a wide range of roles in film, television and theater, Allison Janney has taken her place among a select group of actors who combine a leading lady's profile with a character actor's art of performance. Fans will remember her starring role as CJ Cregg in the award-winning NBC series, The West Wing, for which Janney won a remarkable four SAG and four Emmy Awards. She recently guest starred on ABC's LOST as a pivotal character in the mythlogy of the series. She has also appeared in many movies. She starred opposite Meryl Streep in The Hours, which received a SAG Award nomination for Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture. Other credits include the Academy Award-winning films American Beauty (for which she won a SAG Award for Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture), Finding Nemo, Over the Hedge, Our Very Own, Strangers with Candy, Nurse Betty, How to Deal, Drop Dead Gorgeous, 10 Things I Hate About You, Primary Colors, The Ice Storm, Six Days Seven Nights, The Object of My Affection and Big Night.

Andrea Anders (Alice) is the marketing director for the Sunshine Center. Andrea most recently starred in ABC's critically acclaimed series Better Off Ted, and is known to television audiences for her roles as Nicole Allen on the sitcom The Class and as Alex Garrett in the Friends spin-off series Joey, opposite Matt LeBlanc. Additional television credits include guest starring on Law & Order, Tru Calling, Oz, Numb3rs and appearances on the daytime dramas Guiding Light and One Life to Live. Feature film credits include the road comedy Sex Drive and The Stepford Wives. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (from University of Wisconsin) and a Master of Fine Arts degree (from Rutgers).

James Lesure (Alonzo) plays a former basketball player and friend to Ben. James gives new meaning to the term Hollywood Hunk. His magnetic charm, both on screen and stage, complement a firmly grounded personality. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the suave, competitive head of surveillance, Mike Cannon, on the hit series Las Vegas, opposite legendary actor James Caan. Lesure made his series debut on the comedy For Your Love as attorney Mel Ellis, co-starring actress Holly Robinson-Peete. He has also appeared in recurring roles on the hits The New Adventures of Old Christine, Lipstick Jungle, The Division and Alias. Other television credits include guest-starring roles on ABC's LOST, Sherri, Seinfeld and a notable turn as a resolute military officer on the acclaimed series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which of course starred Matthew Perry.

Nate Torrence (Roman) plays Crystal's son and he is looking for work at the arena. Torrence began breaking into television with guest star appearances on several shows, including Malcolm in the Middle, How I Met Your Mother, House and many more. In 2006 he landed the recurring role of Dylan Killington on NBC's critically acclaimed Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, opposite Mr. Sunshine star Matthew Perry. Film appearances include Get Smart, Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control, My Best Friend's Girl and a major role in the Dreamworks comedy She's Out of My League. He is a master of improv and still finds time to perform sketch/improv shows in area theaters, including at The Second City Theater in Los Angeles.


Pilot Plot:

#1 "Pilot" (Airs February 9, 2011)
On what would have been just a typical day at work -- trying to get rid of a hockey rink that won't melt so the circus can go on that night, looking for an elephant lost in the building and arranging an impromptu press conference to repair one of his boss's PR nightmares -- Alice ends her casual relationship with Ben to commit to another man. This happens on Ben's 40th birthday, just as he's realizing he doesn't want to be alone.

Recurring is Portia Doubleday as Heather. Guest starring are Jorge Garcia as Bobert and David Pressman as mascot. Co-starring Christopher Shea as Dan, Declan Beaty as kid, Jesse Bean as guy, Eric Winzenried as photographer, Harvey Ruffin III as executive, Rico Bueno as worker #1, Alejandro Patino as worker #2, Sam Brown as worker #3, Gene DeJoie as worker #4 and Peter Navy Tuiasosop as worker #5.
"Pilot" was written by Matthew Perry, Alex Barnow and Marc Firek and directed by Thomas Schlamme.


Analysis:

This pilot and the premise of the series in general is very unique. I'm surprised there has never been a comedy fully set at a sports arena and looking at the day-to-day operations of it. The pilot sets things up well. That is what a pilot episode should do. Usually the pilot episode is not the strongest episode, but it should catch the viewer's attention. And that's what this one does here. It is a single camera half-hour comedy starring Matthew Perry. Perry's character plays Ben, head of operations for an arena in San Diego called The Sunshine Center (actually filmed at the Forum in Los Angeles). He is the one who schedules everything and well does pretty much everything for the arena. They've got hockey games, rock concerts, the circus, lingerie football, dog shows and more...but lots can go wrong at any of these events and that is what this comedy will explore. Ben says San Diego lost their basketball team to Cincinnati because of something Alonzo did, so not sure if we'll see some basketball here.

Janney's character, Crystal, is the owner of the arena and is extremely eccentric, as proved when she makes up a hilarious song: "the blacks, the whites, the Asians and the Himalayans, too." That made me laugh...she seems to be a racist but doesn't know it. The entire team at the arena is pretty dysfunctional. The pilot has Ben turning 40 and he is sleeping with the marketing director of the arena, Alice. However, Alice is calling their "friends with benefits" relationship off. Ben doesn't seem to mind at first until he later finds out that she is about to start an actual relationship with his best friend, Alonzo, who used to be a basketball player and now works for the arena. Nothing gets Alonzo down, he is your Mr. Sunshine type of guy. Ben is not a very nice guy, but he shows signs of some humanity as we progress. The title of this comedy is Mr. Sunshine, but Ben is from that. The title is really a play at the arena name, since Ben is in charge of everything at the arena. It's a clever play at the title. Among the good things we see from Ben is trying to give Crystal's son Roman a job in the arena. He has no skills and is very strange and his mother doesn't seem to care much about him. It will be interesting to see if Ben can make something of Roman in future episodes. Ben is also trying to be more friendly to his staff, as we see in the pilot episode with the head of maintenance (played by Jorge Garcia) as Ben is trying to be more friendly towards him. But is his name really "Bobert?" Ben also has a new assistant named Heather and she is also very strange, setting people on fire in her past and now also oddly being attracted to Roman.

There are some funny bits in the pilot, but it isn't quite there yet. It has a ton of potential and I could see this comedy turning into the style ABC had with Better Off Ted, except this will be more mainstream and will have more appeal to everyone as it is set in an arena (rather than a research & development company). So my overall feeling is: it's a good set-up with much more to come.


Conclusion:

The series will be following the #1 comedy on television, Modern Family, so it will be certainly sampled. That is a good thing because this show has so much potential. It has a great setting and a great cast. It will be interesting to see how much Ben can better himself as a person as the series progresses. There should be a lot of hilarious challenges on the way. The cast isn't too big, so we will be invested in the characters immediately. One thing I found funny was when Jorge Garcia's character says Ben, as we saw Garcia's character say that name all the time on Lost (Ben Linus). That is a nice homage to Lost, I think, but probably just coincidental here. Garcia will be in a few episodes in this series.

I think the characters are all good and it will be fun to see them develop. If this comedy is even half of what Better Off Ted was, then it should be in good shape in terms of quality. Matthew Perry is good here. He may be unlikeable but you can tell he is trying to "better" himself and I think the show will get better and better, too. Andrea Anders is really stunning and Allison Janney will probably be nominated for many Emmy's for this role, I predict. You don't have to like sports to like this comedy. Events in arenas are more than just sporting events, as I'm sure you all know. Nick Jonas will be guest starring in week two as a singer. Tune in Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC for some good arena fun because the arena staff might be dysfunctional, but that makes for good TV!


Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 4/5
Funniness: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

-- Reviewed by Pavan on 02/08/11

Discuss the show after you watch it on Wednesday, February 9 on our message board.

Related Links:

  • ABC.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • Mr. Sunshine Photo Gallery

    Preview:



    As we briefly mentioned yesterday, Frasier is coming to Hallmark in April 2011! Hallmark Channel has acquired all eleven seasons and all 264 episodes of Frasier from CBS Television Distribution. Frasier, one of the most critically-acclaimed comedy series of all-time and one of television's most successful spin-off series ever will launch on Monday, April 4, airing Monday-Friday from 9:00-11:00 pm ET/PT. This means, Cheers and Frasier will now be reunited on one network, Hallmark Channel. Frasier, a spin-off of Cheers set in Seattle, starring Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Jane Leeves, Peri Gilpin and beloved Jack Russell Terrier "Eddie," holds the record for the most Emmy wins (37), including five consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series from 1994 to 1998.
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