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Matthew Perry’s ‘Mr. Sunshine’ is selfish guy in transition


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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

You’d be hard-pressed to think of a celebrity more cynical than Matthew Perry. As a teen, he co-starred in “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon” as River Phoenix’s best friend — and we remember how that one turned out. Then he landed a role as Carol’s boyfriend on “Growing Pains” — who died after a drunk-driving accident.

Perry finally got his big break on “Friends,” only to have his comedic timing overshadowed by Jennifer Aniston’s modified mushroom hairstyle.

His efforts to elevate the audience’s intellect on the Aaron Sorkin shows “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” were met with a collective “What’d he say? Rewind.” Perry’s last movie, “17 Again,” was based on the concept that he looked like Zac Efron as a teenager. (Um, OK.)

So yes, you are correct in interpreting the title of “Mr. Sunshine” with a dash of irony.

In this series he helped create, Perry plays Ben, the manager of San Diego’s second-tier arena the Sunshine Center. The setting is brilliant. In the first episode, a subplot concerns an escaped elephant. The possibilities are limitless, yes? How do you not get comedy gold out of “Smurfs on Ice” and lingerie football?

Perry says his character is essentially himself five years ago. “I think I spent a great deal of my 20s, certainly — and the bulk of my 30s — a little self-obsessed,” he says. “And it was in changing that in my own life that I thought that that would make an interesting character. Sort of watching the 9,000 mistakes a man like that will make trying to transition himself from being sort of a selfish guy to a nice, normal person.”

“Mr. Sunshine” is an ensemble show all the way, though. Allison Janney’s character, Crystal, is destined to be one of the greats. She plays the owner of the Sunshine Center, and when we meet her, she’s crawling around her office on her knees, saying, “Have you seen a small white pill with some Spanish written on it?” She’s lusty, imperious, borderline offensive and terrified of clowns. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a new role model.

“Lost’s” Jorge Garcia pops up as the head custodian, and Nate Torrence is Crystal’s son (and Ben’s newest employee). Torrence, who studied at Second City, could make an open-faced smile suggest brain damage.

For me, the weakest link in the ensemble was love interest Andrea Anders, but maybe I’m just creeped out because Perry is kissing Matt LeBlanc’s real-life girlfriend. Not cool, man.

There’s some smart slapstick, and I believe that Perry could be the one sane man in an arena that holds 17,505 people. (His assistant Heather has set an ex-boyfriend on fire.) Can Ben turn things around for himself, become a better person and exude warm fuzzies?

Doubtful. It’ll be fun to watch him squirm as he tries, though.

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