Sullivan & Son: TV Review

"Sullivan & Son"
Imagine an unfunny Cheers. But hey, it may be funny to you.  

TBS' original comedy by Steve Byrne is a stale retread of '90s comedies past.

Sometimes, when you look around, you have to admit you don’t belong. Could be a neighborhood, could be a bar, maybe you’re at the wrong concert. I always get this feeling when I watch TBS.

Oh, I like some of the comedies it buys — Seinfeld, Family Guy, My Name Is Earl. But almost never any comedies it makes. Mostly it’s because the sitcoms are overly familiar, like they were created to bring out the nostalgia inside of you for sitcoms of yesteryear that were comforting and, at least you thought at the time, funny. There’s never anything challenging on TBS. No show that breaks a barrier or goes left instead of right to the punch line you predicted two seconds earlier.

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At one point, it got so bad that I could look at the cover art of a DVD or read the press notes and know immediately that it wasn’t for me. Like sipping a pina colada when you were expecting a beer. Or walking into a store that sells buttons and bows when you were looking for a hardware store.

Hey, beer and hardware stores. Sounds like a TBS comedy.

This time I decided to pop Sullivan & Son into the DVD player without reading the press notes and having barely looked at the cover. It’s about a New York corporate attorney named Steve (comedian Steve Byrne) coming home to Pittsburgh for his father’s birthday, with a fussy super-New-Yorky girlfriend who’s already counting his cash and her new lifestyle uptown once he gets promoted. She hates Pittsburgh. She had to getcoffee at the gas station. He loves it. And going into his father’s bar, he loves all of his goofy friends, now all grown up and hanging at the bar. Hemisses their realism, apparently. And, oh, by the way, Dad is selling the bar.

You probably can’t figure out what happens next.

See, that’s the problem with original comedies on TBS. They’re not original. They all seem like rejected shows from the 1990s. Like someone found a box of failed pilots and reshot them. Or didn’t.

Two episodes of Sullivan & Son were like watching caricatures of characters you’d seen before (and were equally unfunny then). The only thing that makes Sullivan & Son slightly new is that it’s multicultural, in that Byrne has an Irish-American father (in the show his father is played by Dan Lauria) and a Korean mother (played by Jodi Long). Byrne also is from Pittsburgh.

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OK, then. So you know he buys the bar from his dad, sends his girlfriend packing to New York and then plays Sam Malone. It smelled like Cheers from the get-go, sans many of the laughs. There’s even a Cheers pedigree in that the showrunner is Rob Long, who was a writer and producer on Cheers (he’s also known for the Hollywood-specific KCRW radio show Martini Shot). Despite that, Long can’t turn Sullivan & Son into Cheers, nor get it even as close as Pittsburgh is to Boston. (It might not be all Long’s fault because Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley also are named as executive producers.)

Sure, you’ve got your ragtag group of bar patrons including the lovable codger-racist Hank (Brian Doyle-Murray), the elder floozy Carol (Christine Ebersole), dimwit Owen (Owen Benjamin), etc., etc., etc. It’s like some type of Canadian Cheers.

But the last thing you want to attempt is to be Cheers, even from another planet. The Irish-Korean thing is interesting but not especially funny, except that Long knows how to play the tough, heartless mother and Vivian Bang gets laughs as her daughter (and Steve’s sister). Otherwise, well, let’s just say that as soon as I predicted the punch lines before they happened, I tried to forget that I heard them before they ended. But again, I’m in the wrong place here. Comedy is subjective, and lots of people love TBS. (Although I do love Conan on TBS.) You may laugh at all the comedies that TBS makes while I roll my eyes and groan. But nevermind me. I’m leaving this channel.