Thursday, April 14, 2011

If Matthew Perry had appeared on "Sports Night," Aaron Sorkin's great sitcom, in "Chandler" mode, that wouldn't have worked either

So I've been meaning to talk some about the show Mr. Sunshine, co-created by and starring Matthew Perry as the manager of a huge arena. I don't think I'm going to watch it any more (if there is any more), but I've watched every episode to date, and at a certain point I realized I was doing so not because I was especially enjoying it.

Rather because I was trying to figure out why it just wasn't working for me. And this is what I've come up with: They're trying to do Aaron Sorkin without having Sorkin, and Perry is out of tune with the rest of his show.

The similarities to a Sorkin show are easily evident, with Sunshine being set "backstage," as all of Sorkin's series (West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60) are, and underlined by the presence of more than a few past Sorkin collaborators either in front of or behind the camera.

Aspiring to do a Sorkin-type show is a worthy goal, to be sure, but one thing this demonstrates is that it's harder than it looks. Even Sorkin doesn't keep his balance all the time, look at the third season of West Wing, and his ear for language is rare if not unique among his peers.

Without maintaining that balance, and without that sense of language, Sunshine is swimming against the tide...and it doesn't help that Perry is going in a different direction.

Perry appears to have two different styles of acting, both of which can be very effective.

One of these is, not necessarily only dramatic, but certainly more reflective, such as he employed on Studio 60 and his guest bits on West Wing. The other is basically sitcom, or more specifically Chandler, the wisecracker covering up emotional turmoil.

The latter mode frankly can be a bit overacted, but usually that's okay because it's in keeping with the rest of the show (nobody seriously thought Friends had much of a connection to real life, did they? And I liked the show.)

Trouble is that the two don't work together very well. On Sunshine, we have most of the cast smoothly underplaying (and hence coming off a little bit boring), while Perry overacts like Celine Dion putting over a song.

Only Allison Janney strikes a consistent balance, and appears to be having the time of her life, but she's helped by the fact that the weight of the show is not on her shoulders.

The combined result is like watching idiot acrobats who don't understand physics try to make a teeter-totter work with one person at one end and everybody else at the other. After a while, you gotta wonder why they're just standing there.

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