Matthew Perry returns to TV in “Mr. Sunshine” on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EST on ABC. The single-camera sitcom, which Perry co-created, should have all the makings of a great comedy, but the pilot falls a bit short. Developed with “Friends” producer Jamie Tarses and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” producer Thomas Schlamme, “Mr. Sunshine” boasts big stars… but no likable characters.
Perry plays Ben Donovan, a self-described “emotionally broken” man who manages a sports arena in San Diego. On his 40th birthday, Donovan has a bit of a breakthrough, realizing that he’s selfish, narcissistic, and unreliable. Unfortunately… he’s also not very funny. Sure, we love seeing Perry on our TV, and there’s a certain comfort in his familiar Chandler Bing sarcasm, but it’s not actually enough to make us sympathize with his character. There’s probably a “Friends” rerun playing on some other channel, anyway.
The character makes a few vague attempts to change his ways, like offering to commit to co-worker Alice (Andrea Anders), who he’s been sleeping with while seeing other people. The efforts are half-hearted, and by the end of the episode, Ben’s remains unappealing.
The owner of the arena, Crystal (Allison Janney) is even less fun to watch. She’s a racist pill-popper with a clown phobia that sets up an incredibly obvious punch line, since — of course — the circus is in town. Imagine Michael Scott, highly self-medicated, in heels, with money, on a power trip. It’s less pretty than that.
The characters don’t have interesting relationships with each other — you get the impression that these people work together, hate it, and don’t spare each other a second thought once they’ve left the arena for the day.
Here’s the thing — we still love Perry, and so does America. Give us a reason to get emotionally invested in this character and his acquaintances, and we’ll still tune in. We did laugh once or twice — the clown joke got us, okay? — and a “Modern Family” lead-in just may give the show the head start it needs.