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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
Plus, as a bonus, check out today's "first look" at a pilot that didn't make the cut - ABC's "Awkward Situations for Men."
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
MR. SUNSHINE (ABC)
(written by Matthew Perry, Alex Barnow & Marc Firek; directed by Thomas Schlamme; TRT: 23:28)
The network's description: "Matthew Perry stars as Ben Donovan, the self-involved manager of a second-rate San Diego sports arena who begins to re-evaluate his life on his 40th birthday. Working alongside him is his boss and arena owner, Crystal -- attractive, powerful and highly erratic; Alice -- the cute, tomboyish marketing director and Ben's friend with benefits; Alonzo - a former basketball player, handsome and unbelievably happy; Ben's assistant, Heather - pretty, sweet, but terrifying because she once lit a boyfriend on fire; Crystal's son, Roman - sweet-faced, clueless and Ben's newest employee; and a hapless operations crew whom Ben refers to collectively as the "Steves.""
What did they leave out? That about covers it.
The plot in a nutshell: The last thing Ben Donovan (Matthew Perry), Manager of Operations at The Sunshine Center, wants for his 40th birthday is for people to make a big deal about it. Much to his chagrin then his secretary, Heather (Portia Doubleday), has put said salutation on the scoreboard overlooking the arena. But considering the inconclusive police investigation into her alleged lighting of her ex-boyfriend on fire, he lets it slide. After all, Ben's got bigger problems: the ice from yesterday's hockey game won't melt and the circus has booked the place for tonight; Alice (Andrea Anders), his friend with benefits and the Center's marketing director, "wants to talk"; his slightly-insane, slightly-racist boss Crystal (Allison Janney) is hell bent on making sure her donation to a local youth center offsets the bad press from her illegal Himalayan dog track; plus she wants him to find a job for her estranged, layabout son Roman (Nate Torrence); and darn if that Alonzo (James Lesure), former basketball star-turned-stadium PR guy, isn't in an impossibly wonderful mood... again.
All of the above however is distracting Ben from his favorite subject: himself. So if that means ignoring his duties to pester random employees about the meaning behind Alice's texts or what to do about her wanting more, so be it. Not surprisingly all of the various fires he's left burning get worse, and he has to intervene. Whether it be helping Crystal with her speech ("I don't know if you should open with, 'Yay black kids!'"); learning about Roman's interests to place him somewhere at the stadium ("I like boats. I like how they float on the ocean. And I like mafia movies."); or actually admitting he - gasp! - likes Alice to her; he just might have to grow up and take some responsibility. Not surprisingly, none of the above works out and Ben will ultimately have decide whether being an adult and making connections is worth it. Or as Crystal puts it: "I need reminders that I'm just not floating alone in this world all by myself, I need to know I'm not going to be alone. You don't need that, you're young. What are you 31, 32?" Ben: "40." Crystal: "Oooh... I'm not sure what to do now."
What works: All the pieces are there - Perry being Perry, Janney playing kooky, the assorted randomness of working at a sports arena - but...
What doesn't: ...darn if it doesn't come together. All of the above comes across as surprisingly unfunny as Perry plays Ben as overly neurotic and over the top - oh my God the horror! A pretty girl who's been nothing but cool the entire time they've been hanging out is asking for a commitment! And she might be willing to pick him over the nice, well-meaning other guy she's been seeing! Let's run and hide! Is this the only reaction guys can have on television? Yikes. Even worse he's unnecessarily mean to his employees (he calls all of them Miguel, until eventually settling on Steve), a fact that's made all the more glaring by the weak jokes he makes about them ("Steve": "Ben, there's an elephant loose in the building!" Ben (re: Roman): "No, it's okay, I just got him a job in the kitchen."). And rimshot in three, two...
Only Janney's Crystal seems to be having any fun as she thinks the phone is ringing when it isn't, makes random declarations ("Clowns terrify me. Are they happy? Are they sad? Why are their pockets so big?"); keeps a giant oil painting of herself behind her desk ("They don't do oil paintings of people who don't own things.") and asks Alonzo to be sure they have an Asian kid hand her a trophy at her ceremony. Everybody else just kind of floats around: Heather takes Ben's messages by giving him a play-by-play through the intercom; Roman makes awkward gestures like, after seeing Alice and Ben argue, "I can be helpful, I have a minor in psychology from Evanston... Well not actually from Evanston. Okay, the whole thing was a lie."); and Anders, so adorable in "Better Off Ted," is severely underutilized. As I said before, the pieces are theoretically there...
The bottom line: ...but the way they're being assembled right now isn't working.