Finally, a little “Sunshine” in our sitcoms

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By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer

What do you get when you combine “Arrested Development,” and “Sports Night,” with “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip?”  You get the new ABC comedy “Mr. Sunshine.”

The show airs on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Starring Matthew Perry as Ben Donovan, its about the manager of the slightly run-down San Diego Sunshine Arena. He hits 40 and is smacked with the conventional midlife crisis. His pretty, but slightly neurotic, ‘girlfriend,’ leaves him for former NBA player (and the arena’s PR person), the perpetually happy Alonso.

Add in his pill-popping, politically incorrect boss, Crystal, who may be certifiably insane. Her estranged son, Roman (who now works for Ben) is, well, let’s just say not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Things really send him over the edge. Oh, and I should mention the assistant who may or may not have set a man on fire.

Ben’s one of those guys that everyone knows. He wants to be caring, but he keeps dropping the ball and his snark gets in the way. He’ll insult you, make you laugh and you won’t realize what he said until hours later. What makes him redeemable is the fact that he is really trying to care about other people.

If you only read the plot, nothing about this show should work. It would appear to be just another silly sitcom, the likes of which seem to fill every single channel on TV. Instead, “Mr. Sunshine” is a brutally dark and funny show with a ridiculously funny cast and killer writing.

Matthew Perry is most famous for his role as Chandler on “Friends,” and rightly so. He was, after all, the funniest cast member on the show and he brings all that talent to “Mr. Sunshine.” No one plays self-loathing neurosis and strangely charming quite like Perry. “Mr. Sunshine” is his baby, it’s safe to say.

He’s one of the show’s creators, one of its producers and a writer. Even juggling all that, he’s able to drop  snappy lines better than anyone else on the show.

Allison Janney, who starred in “The West Wing,” had the chance to show her comedic chops on that show. Though her character on “West Wing” C.J. wasn’t exactly insane. I’d imagine Crystal an incredibly fun character to play. She gets to throw everything out the window and say lines like, “John Cougar Mellencamp is going to be here. I would like to make love to him.” Plus, her chemistry with Perry is wonderful. Our first introduction to the character is her crawling around on the floor and asking Ben if he’s seen a little white pill with Spanish on it.

“Mr. Sunshine,” does have its problems. The biggest one being that the writers and creators are going to need to find a way to walk the very thin line between absurd comedy and believable situations. It’s one of the things that killed “Arrested Development.” A missing elephant on the run in the arena is only going to work for so long. Plus, this humor clearly doesn’t play to everyone.

Shows like the under-appreciated “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” also starring Matthew Perry, and the sorely missed “Sports Night,” proved that not everyone goes in for the cerebral, surreal comedy that writers have tried for years to make popular. I hope that shows like this will come back into the mainstream and stick around. Programs are getting smarter, and reality TV seems to be in a lull, which may bode well for “Mr. Sunshine.”

For those of us who stick around every week to watch “Mr. Sunshine,” we’ll be treated to a show that has great potential, with brilliant writing and wonderful acting. And besides, who is really going to complain about getting a weekly fix of the always-charming Matthew Perry again?

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