Lately it seems as if there is no specific time of year for television to air new shows. In a simpler time, when I was just a naïve television addict, I believed autumn to be the season of pilots. But nowadays shows just seem to pop into the schedule at random, some in September, others in November and yet others waiting until January, February or March. I have yet to see a pattern emerge.
With the confusion of pilot show airdates, it may seem difficult to sift through the smattering of new offerings including “Mad Love,” “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” “Lights Out,” “Traffic Light” and more that I probably haven’t even heard of.
But I did hear about a show starring Matthew Perry, and featuring the sarcastic humor he was known for throughout his decade on “Friends.” As a Chandler lover at heart, I was immediately intrigued.
“Mr. Sunshine” begins following Perry as Ben, the guarded and loner San Diego sports-arena manager, on his 40th birthday. With a circus invading the arena, an elephant on the loose and a speech to get through with his boss, the last thing Ben wants to deal with is his birthday.
Despite his desire to stay as far out of the spotlight as possible, everyone around him seems to want to push him right back in — starting with his name in lights on the arena’s scoreboard.
Ben’s unconventional and quite literally “high-on-life” boss, Crystal (Allison Janney), could be considered the driving force to his solitude. Yet that also means that she is steering the wheel directly towards the type of humor that Perry plays best, making the duo a great showcase for one another.
The pilot is filled with moments both strange and pleasantly entertaining. Every supporting performer does the most with the time they are given, right down to Ben’s assistant Heather (Portia Doubleday), who once set a man on fire and whose perky demeanor scares Ben just enough to keep him cringing. Jorge Garcia (Hurley from “Lost”) adds to the cast as the recurring janitor who is both scared of Ben and wants to offer his advice. Alonzo’s (James Lesure) “life-is-filled-with-happiness-and-opportunity” attitude is sure to drive Ben up the wall, that is if Crystal’s son Romano (Nate Torrence) hasn’t already done so. Ben’s sanity is kept in check by his on-again, off-again friends-with-benefits relationship with co-worker Alice (Andrea Anders).
Surrounded by characters that only enhance Ben’s longing for a solitary life, the cast comes together with a surprising chemistry that gets laughs from the start.
The show centers on the hard-working Perry, who is essentially the focal point of every scene. He is not playing quite the same Chandler character we knew from “Friends.” Instead Perry, who developed the show alongside Alex Barnow, created a character that does not use humor as a defensive mechanism but rather as a wall around the fortress he has built for himself. But you still get those spastic hand-motions along with the jokes that we loved, just with an all-new cast of characters to make fun of and play around with.
Once you get past the moat filled with Ben’s dark-humored isolation, there is a heart that beats strong which is the strength of the show. While he might want to remain as distant as possible from his co-workers, he doesn’t want to see them fail and does a good job of bringing the team together to get the work done.
The pilot is promising. It’s the sort of show that has the ability to grow, but also has the potential to sink under the radar. But the recognizable humor and fun cast of Perry’s “Mr. Sunshine” might be just the thing to brighten up your cloudy Rochester days.
“Mr. Sunshine” airs on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.
Rosenberg is a member of the class of 2012.