After I complained last week that ABC had posted no further Mr. Sunshine episodes for critics to check out, the network abruptly threw tonight’s episode and the March 2 episode up on its screener site last Friday, indicating at least some amount of confidence in the show (and a distressing lack of confidence in next week’s episode). So I figured, what the hell? Some of you seemed to like this show quite a bit, and I thought it had a bunch of promising pieces that were just waiting to come together. Plus, most comedies take a while to settle, simply due to the fact that it takes time for both ensembles and writers rooms to figure out what makes everybody tick. (Honestly, reviewing comedy pilots is always a bit of a ridiculous game, since they’re written by single writers, and comedies, at least in the U.S., are so dependent on groups of funny writers coming together to come up with funny gags.)
So was this better? A bit, though I still didn’t really laugh at it. Things are certainly smoother, and Matthew Perry is settling more and more, and I smiled at some of the stuff with him and teen pop idol Eli Cutler (played by Nick Jonas, with a name assembled from drawing name-parts of NFL quarterbacks out of a hat). In particular, I was impressed with Jonas’ surprising amount of comic timing. He was pretty good at playing the standard vacant teen idol with a bit of a wink, all the better so you’d know that he was in on the joke. The scenes between Perry and Jonas improbably ended up becoming my favorites of the episode and gave me hope for the future. If the show can keep bringing in bizarre guest stars to bounce off of Perry in his day job, well, I’d be down with that.
The rest of the episode, however, was more hit and miss. It was, essentially, a complete redo of the pilot. And I get that shows in their early going have to make sure the audience is entirely caught up with the premise and the characters and so on and so forth. Repeating the pilot isn’t always the most fun for those of us who’ve seen the pilot, but I get the network logic behind it. On the other hand, there’s redoing most of the basic conflicts of the pilot, and then there’s just blatantly ripping yourself off. Once again, it’s a major anniversary of a certain event in Ben’s life. Once again, he feels underappreciated. Once again, there’s a strange amount of focus on the relationship between Crystal and Roman. Outside of a few strange character tics—did we know that Heather was a psychotic who burns things last week?—there was a surprising amount of stuff that just got blatantly redone.
Still, there’s nothing here that’s egregiously awful, and I almost think this episode might have worked better as an introduction to the characters than the pilot did. In the pilot, Ben was just a standard workaholic Matthew Perry character, but here, you start to get a sense of just how much he really does care about his job and the events center. It feels less like something he’s doing just to hang on to his sanity and more like something he has to do because he loves it. The idea of Crystal throwing a contest to pick one of the employees as the best had promise, and while a lot of it just devolved into the typical gags of the characters trying to impress Crystal, some of them were borderline inspired. (I particularly liked the churro cake.) Roman didn’t really get a lot to do beyond being an idiot, but, well, that’s his character’s function.
If there’s a big complaint here, it’s in the Alice and Alonzo storyline. Andrea Anders is such a fun comic actress and so game with just about everything that’s tossed at her that it’s sad to see her end up in a joke as predictable as Alice talking loudly around blind kids and saying bad things about them until one says, “We can hear you.” The show genuinely doesn’t seem to have any clue what to do with either of these characters, and they almost seem to be around so Perry doesn’t have to be in every scene. But they’re both kind of too nice—and it feels odd to say that about a woman who tried to steal Frisbees from blind children and replace them with paper plates in tonight’s episode. I like the concept of Alonzo as the nicest guy in the universe, but I’m not sure there’s a lot of comic juice in it, if he’s going to be the main supporting actor on the show. Similarly, Alice’s character is just all over the map at this point, waiting for the writers to zero in on something Anders can play effectively. Perry, of course, is the show’s center, and Janney will be the main character for him to bounce off of. Then you have Roman, who more or less works as a naïve innocent foil, and Heather, who’s still flailing a bit but starting to find her footing. Along with all of the other folks behind the scenes (including Kathy Najimy this week!) and that giant cougar Ben can never be certain has a person inside of it or not, that’s an ensemble that more or less has all of the pieces it needs. The show’s biggest challenge will likely be finding a place for Alice and Alonzo, beyond just love interest and nice guy.
But I liked enough of what I saw here that I’ll check out a few more episodes. It’s still not nearly good enough for me to heartily recommend—and the music continues to be among the worst, most overused musical scores on television—but there’s stuff here that feels like a show starting to figure itself out. The ratings last week weren’t terrible, and plenty of people seem to be onboard for the long haul. So for now, I’m cautiously hoping this starts pulling itself together quickly. Maybe I’ll check back in on March 2. You’ll be there, I presume?