Both of these talented actors, Matthew Perry and Allison Janney, had been appearing here and there, since their respective mainstay series closed for business. Now, hopefully, they have latched on to what gives every promise of being another top-quality, long-term gig.
Ms. Janney, as you probably remember, starred until 2006 on the highly-acclaimed drama, The West Wing. Matthew Perry had a good, long run as Chandler Bing in the successful comedy, Friends. Somewhat oddly, now that the two of them are paired up, Janney has most of the comic lines, while Perry, more or less, plays the straight man.
By the way, I do not for one moment wish to imply that straight men are not funny. Anybody familiar with the careers of Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason should know that is not the case. Benny and Gleason, at their best, made us laugh by being the butts of other peoples’ jokes and smart remarks.
Getting back to these two present-day actors, their vehicle is a quietly excellent little comedy on ABC, called Mr. Sunshine. If you have not seen it, maybe you should give it a look. What I like most about this new program is that it is a mature show, featuring mature actors…if not always mature people. Trying to make a success out of a claque of yuppies, seeming to sound a lot smarter than they actually are, has its limits. Only a few shows (such as the aforementioned Friends and How I Met Your Mother) have managed to pull it off. Many, many more have crashed and burned or will soon do so.
The premise of the show is that Perry, in the role of Ben Donovan, is the manager of The Sunshine Center, a probably second-rate arena in San Diego. The lady he works for, Crystal Cohen, played by Janney, is the owner of the arena, due to a propitious marriage, which, we later learn, she entered into after having abruptly ditched her soon-to-be previous husband. By the way, we run into that jilted husband in the March 16th episode.
That episode, titled “Lingerie Football,” may be the best one, so far in the series. Without going into all the gory details, Ben finally figures out that Crystal needs to get some “closure” with her ex-husband. He persuades her to go and confront him, mistakenly thinking he was the one who ditched her. It is not until it is too late that he learns otherwise.
They find Crystal’s ex-husband, Billy, singing at a nearby upscale establishment. We do not actually get to hear Billy sing until Crystal decides she needs to take the stage and sing a duet with him. The song goes wonderfully. Well, we could figure Billy, played by James Taylor, could hold up his end of the deal, but who knew Allison Janney would partner up so well with him in a song? In the previous episode, she demonstrated reasonably competent ice skating skills. What’s next, brain surgery?
Of course, the series involves more than Matthew Perry and Allison Janney sparring with one another. There are a number of secondary characters, all of whom consistently turn in fine work. In the “Lingerie Football” episode, they all had some wonderful moments. In particular, I liked that Roman (Crystal’s sort-of-estranged and somewhat clueless son) gets a little further along in his quirky attempts to win the heart of Heather, the boss lady’s clearly psychotic secretary. Both Nate Torrence, as Roman, and Portia Doubleday as Heather are consistently amusing, whether together or interacting with others.
I applaud both the stars of this show for their versatility, and not just in the form of singing and skating. As Chandler Bing, Matthew Perry was the friend who was the quickest with a wisecrack. Lisa Kudrow may have been the funniest of the six, but her comedy came from a somewhat spaced-out attitude, rather than a smart mouth. Now, as Ben Donovan, Perry has easily made the transition from punch-line to set-up. Allison, who excelled in The West Wing, showed she has maybe an even greater gift for comedy.
I have said before that ABC is not a network to be trusted with quality TV. Just recently, they jettisoned an excellent, very edgy show called Happy Town. It is chiefly for that reason, but also because I like putting people on to a good thing, that I recommend as strongly as I can that you tune in to Mr. Sunshine and give it a good, long look.
Mr. Sunshine, Season 1, Episode 6: “Lingerie Football”
Mr. Sunshine, Season 1, Episode 5: “Crystal on Ice”