Sunday, February 13, 2011

TV: Mr. Tired And Dull

Does Matthew Perry have a death wish? Maybe not, but his career sure does. The actor shot to fame as Chandler Bing on the sitcom Friends. He quickly fell down to earth with Studio Yada-Yada -- a career destroying move for so many. Apparently he walked away from that experience with the mistaken impression that the problem was the 60 minute format and not his endless monologues hence Mr. Sunshine.


When we watched the first episode we were dismayed by how awful it was and wondered why they didn't go out of order and open with the strongest episode? Having watched three additional episodes, we can see they did go with the strongest one.

Everything about this show is wrong -- including that Perry co-created it. It's probably a good idea to leave funny to people who know funny. For example, Perry's character Ben works at an areana. Are you hearing it? The sound of half-wits insisting, "This'll be great! New plotlines every week! New vistas! New characters!" From Shirley's World to Jake In Progress, when the hell has that ever worked?

In sitcoms, you either ignore the job or give the audience a job they can relate to. Those are your choices. On Friends, Chandler's job was so bland and unimportant that (repeatedly) friends pulled a blank on what it was he did. That's one way to go. Courtney Cox was a chef on Friends and is a real estate agent on Cougar Town. They may not be high glam jobs, but they are relatable. That's the other way to go. Instead, the 'creative' team behind Mr. Sunshine wants to fool themselves that audiences are going to relate to someone who would go home at the end of the work day complaining about the hoops a second-tier Justin Bieber (guest star Nick Jonas) put him through culminating with scoring a teenage girl's number.

But it's doubtful anyone would relate to Ben if he were a cop, waiter or delivery man. Chandler was sarcastic and, yes, bitchy. But his cutting humor was, as he himself explained, a defense mechanism developed in childhood (as was his smoking habit). Ben? No back story. So what you're left with is sarcastic and bitchy but before you think "Joan Collins," know that Joan would never be filmed with those bulging bags under her eyes the way Perry was.

Watching him bully and bitchy a Latino janitor (Jorge Garcia), you switch between noticing Ben is not charming or endearing and registering all the physical flaws the camera cannot hide. If you have an extra moment, you may notice the bad body wave perm he's sporting. These are not the blocks with which a successful sitcom is built. And were Chandler to walk up to Ben, we believe he'd take one look at the hair and say, "This way to the green room, Miss Rossellini. I loved you in Blue Velvet."


For the debut, the 'laughs' came from a boss (Allison Janney) terrified of clowns -- and, get this, the boss is also racist! (ha-ha-ha!) -- and the fact that a circus elephant was loose. Amidst all of that, Ben's friend with benefits (Andrea Anders) dumps him for his friend (James Lesure) -- with whom he, presumably, had no benefits.

Perry walks through the pages of the script offering nothing. Filmed in front of a live audience, he'd never get away with it and, other than chemical enhancement, a live audience has always been the only thing that gave Perry's performances spark. (If you doubt us, check out his films -- but do so at your own risk.) A live audience might also reign in some of Janney's beyond-over-the-top moments.

The whole show's beyond-over-the-top if you stop to think about it. Janney's character owns and runs the arena (which most likely was built with tax payer money) and she's in the midst of a scandal, garnering negative press over a dog track she invested in where a dog just bit a person. Drugged out on various pills, her character has a photo-op with kids in an attempt to pick up some good press and change the story. However, spooked by circus clowns, she picks up a child, apparently to hide behind, and then, as the clowns approach, hurls the young boy to the floor, screams and runs off as camera flashbulbs go off repeatedly.

Follow that?

What you may not follow is that the press decides not to run the story. Why? Ben offers them the kind of laughable bribes that only a mid-size venue manager can. In other words, we're supposed to believe that a few tickets and substandard swag convinced a room full of press not to go with what is surely the local story of the day, something that will be picked up by networks and that, yes, could make a career. Something especially true in already media-concentrated region which San Diego (the show's setting) is.

We shared our concerns with two acquaintances working on the show and were told (repeatedly) that Janney is not playing a racist. No, she's playing someone who "stumbles over racial issues" and who "is racially insensitive." That is funny. Not the character they're describing but the fact that they think there's really such a difference. Here's a funny sitcom premise: Producers and bad writers convince themselves they can do racist jokes as long as they hide behind the claim that she's not really racist.

Want to laugh some more? They were unaware that Perry's character refers to Crystal (Janney) as "borderline racist" in the first episode. And that's when Ben is speaking to Crystal's son.

At the end of the first episode, Ben stops an underling who remembered his birthday to ask the underling's name and then mutters, "Already forgot it." We wouldn't be at all surprised if, in a few weeks, people feel the same way about this show.
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