July 22, 2012

TV: Sullivan & Son (TBS, Thu 10)

Sullivan & Son wants to be a 21st-century Cheers. It's not. The show saddles a fine cast with material so dismal that it can't be salvaged.

Co-creator Steve Byrne stars as Steve Sullivan, New York corporate lawyer who decides to buy the family bar when his parents (Dan Lauria and Jodi Long) decide to retire. His snooty girlfriend is appalled at the thought of moving to Pittsburgh, leaving Steve free to start dating his old sweetheart Melanie (Valerie Azlynn). His sister Susan (Vivian Bang) is horrified to have him back home again, believing that he was always the favorite.

The bar's regulars include Steve's best friend Owen (Owen Benjamin); Owen's mom, cougar/lush Carol (Christine Ebersole); and the lovable old racist Hank (Brian Doyle-Murray).

The jokes are mostly creaky old ethnic and drunk jokes; a lot of mileage is gotten out of Long as the scary Korean dragon lady, and Doyle-Murray has to deliver a wretched monologue about how he's learned to accept the changes to the bar as different groups have moved into the neighborhood, "but at least we've kept out the Mexicans!"

Doyle-Murray is so damned good, though, that he almost manages to pull off even a speech that awful; Ebersole works similar miracles with her paper-thin boozy slut. Long and Lauria are convincing as a couple whose marriage is equal parts love and irritation. Byrne is blandly amiable, which is about all one expects from the island of sanity in a sitcom sea of lunacy.

It's a very likable and incredibly talented cast, but the material is so far beneath them that Sullivan & Son isn't remotely worth your time.

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