TV REVIEW: Promising Comedies 'Mr. Sunshine,' 'Mad Love' Have Great Casts, Dream Lead-Ins
9:30 p.m. Wednesday,
Feb. 9 (ABC)
8:30 p.m. Monday,
Feb. 14 (CBS)
Hopefully, the two new shows -- whose casts include Matthew Perry, Allison Janney, Sarah Chalke and Jason Biggs -- live up to the potential show in their pilots, writes Tim Goodman.
We can probably all agree there's a flaw in the system when it comes to reviewing broadcast network shows. While a majority of cable channels send out as many as three or four episodes for a series, about 90% of the time the networks send critics only the pilot.
That leaves room for great and awful. Anything in between is a complicated mystery. Does a show have pilot-itis but offer growth potential? Does the pilot fall right in the middle and give no clues about slipping into lameness or vaulting into something special?
And yet, even one brilliant pilot doesn't accurately predict the future. FlashForward, anyone? The Nine? Any series that offers more than one episode to critics has a distinct advantage. Just check out Fox's Traffic Light. A surprisingly good pilot, but the track record of romantic comedies that focus on three groups of friends in various states of a relationship is not pretty. But three additional episodes of Traffic Light proved that the series was legitimately funny and would sustain its creative achievements.
Which brings us back, murkily, to a couple of comedies about to launch midseason.
ABC's Mr. Sunshine stars Matthew Perry and Allison Janney, with a strong supporting cast. It's a single-camera comedy with a pilot that has broadly drawn introductions to the main characters and no clear hint of where it could go. CBS' Mad Loveis a multicamera series with all the constraints that, ahem, "ambient laughter" brings to such an old-school setup. And it, too, has a niggling internal battle between funny and not.
So, what to make of them, other than an unhelpful "Let's wait and see if they go sideways" toss-off? For starters, both have built-in likability factors. Without getting carried away, you can see the potential in each. And both have great lead-ins: Modern Family for Mr. Sunshine and How I Met Your Mother for Mad Love.
That at least suggests faith on the part of each network, for what that's worth (very little), and raises the odds of curious onlookers bleeding into each. Which is a good thing because a couple more funny comedies are always welcome on television.
On Mr. Sunshine, Perry plays Ben, general manager of the Sunshine Center, a midsize arena that's booked every night for all kinds of events, from hockey to circus acts. His job is to oversee the staff and make sure nothing goes wrong each night. But, of course, something goes wrong each night.
Janney plays Crystal, the "erratic" owner of the arena. She's been married six times, sued a lot, is prone to trouble and has a love of singing inappropriate songs. Part of the hedging about Mr. Sunshine stems from her role. In the pilot, it's a wildly over-the-top portrayal that's simultaneously fun to witness but worrisome as to whether Janney can pull it off every week. For instance, while it's gold to hear her say, "I'm crazy high right now" -- Crystal has a thing for altered states -- she also has to be arrogantly clueless, borderline racist and the mother of a son she doesn't acknowledge having, named Roman (Nate Torrence). Judging from the pilot, Janney's Crystal is part Tracy Jordan from 30 Rock and part Peter Dragon on the late, lamented Fox casualty Action. That could be brilliant or disastrous.
Along with Perry, who deserves another funny role that fits him well, we get the fabulous Andrea Anders (Better Off Ted) as marketing director of the Sunshine Center and Ben's former friend with benefits; James Lesure as Alonzo, the community-outreach director and resident optimist to Ben's dour selfishness; and Torrence as the spectacularly clueless offspring of Crystal and newest employee at the arena.
That same pulling-for-the-cast thing happens on Mad Love. It stars Sarah Chalke as Kate and Jason Biggs as Ben, two romantic New Yorkers in search of love who -- surprise -- find it. Trouble is, their best friends get dragged into the courtship and can't stand each other. Judy Greer plays Connie, Kate's best friend, and Tyler Labine plays Larry, Ben's wing man.
That's an excellent cast: All four actors are likable and deserve a hit that sticks (and, with CBS, they might have found the right spot for it, particularly because the show fits perfectly with How I Met Your Mother). Despite feeling like the concept owes quite a bit to the British series Gavin & Stacey, and a nagging suspicion that the evolution of one couple completely smitten and the other ready to spit on each other will take a long time to come around to four friends and two happy couples, that's not a problem if the jokes are funny. So far, so good. Labine has perfected this kind of role (see Reaper, Sons of Tucson), and Greer is more than adept enough to keep up with him. The pilot doesn't let Biggs or Chalke get a lot of roaring laughs as the mooning lovers, but that could come later.
Could. See, there's no science to this unless the networks start sending out more episodes. In the meantime, Mr. Sunshine and Mad Love at least deserve a few weeks of attention to see if the promise they hold will pay off.