Mr. Sunshine





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

I’ve heard it whispered that America is outgrowing its love affair with irony and smug detachment. We’re ready to trade in our cynicism and sarcasm, it’s said, to set aside our world-weary smirks and push beyond our knowing asides. We’re finally eager to embrace genuine warmth and sincerity. In this new age of earnestness, we won’t hang demotivational posters in our cubicles or roll our eyes when our bosses tell us to “work smarter, not harder.” We might even wear Western shirts with snaps again, just because we think they look nifty.

But if Matthew Perry has anything to do with it, that won’t happen for at least a little while longer.

So let us all roll our jaded eyes in the direction of Mr. Sunshine, an ABC sitcom which he fronts. Perry, of course, is a talented actor who, in Friends, practically perfected the sly smirk and clever aside. If he were a superhero, in fact, he might well be called Irony Man.

But in his new series he’s simply Ben Donovan, the mild-mannered manager of a San Diego multipurpose arena that’s home to basketball games, hockey matches, rodeos, concerts and the occasional circus. It’s a pretty cool gig, and Ben greets each new day with all the enthusiasm of a slightly runny omelet. Variety? Responsibility? Large paychecks? Who needs ’em!

It doesn’t help that Ben’s an Eeyore surrounded by Tiggers.

His assistant, Heather, for instance, is relentlessly cheerful (a trait marred only by rumors that she once set a man on fire). Arena owner Crystal is a collection of eccentricities and illicit drugs. Terminally upbeat co-worker (and former basketball star) Alonzo says that the happiest day of his life was the day he missed a critical buzzer-beater in the playoffs. That allowed him, he says, to switch careers and to better serve the people of San Diego.

And then there’s Alice, Ben’s one-time part-time squeeze who is now shacking up with Alonzo—a step up, she believes.

“He asks me questions about myself and actually listens to the answers,” she tells Ben.

“You know what he sounds like to me?” Ben responds. “A stupid idiot!”

Ben has issues. But he already knows that. Witty rejoinders and knowing smirks do not relationships make, so from the very opening episode, Ben’s on a quest to become a more well-rounded individual. Someone who doesn’t just demand affection, but who both deserves and reciprocates it. He wants to be someone’s … friend. He wants to be there for someone … so they’ll be there for him, too.

And that, in turn, illustrates another bit of biting irony in Mr. Sunshine: Ben wants to become less selfish for, essentially, a pretty selfish reason.

The show, like Ben, has problems—particularly when it comes to its casual attitude toward sex and drugs, as well as its predictable penchant for inappropriate humor. So we can only hope that Mr. Sunshine eventually becomes a ray of sunshine in a rather overcast primetime landscape. We can hope that Ben will change and grow and become one of the rare sitcom characters who not only grows funnier, but better, with age. And in today’s ironic age, how deliciously ironic such a turn of events would be.

Episode Reviews

MrSunshine: 292011


Ben turns 40, and Alice breaks off her “friends with benefits” relationship with him to move in with Alonzo. Ben begins to reflect on his heretofore selfish, meaningless life. Crystal forces Ben to hire her semi-estranged son. She also gives a $50,000 check to a children’s charity to boost her image. (In her press conference, she says she loves children so much “because I never had one of my own.”) But her plan goes awry when she gets surprised by a handful of ax-wielding clowns, picks up a child and uses him as a human shield before flinging him on the ground.

Ben and Alice talk about sex frequently (duration, quality and whether it’d be permissible for them to have one last interlude after they break up). Crystal asks Ben to help her look for a “small white pill with Spanish written on it” and later confesses that she’s incredibly high. She tells Ben she wants to sleep with John Mellencamp, shows no affection for her amiable-but-clueless son, Roman (who clearly wants to connect with her), and displays an unhealthy obsession with race. Characters say “h‑‑‑” and misuse God’s name.

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Paul Asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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