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Television review: 'Sullivan & Son' a tired toast to 'Cheers'

The new TBS sitcom gets mired in crass cultural stereotypes in a misguided attempt to re-create the easy barroom bonhomie of its forerunner.

July 18, 2012|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Valerie Azlynn and Steve Byrne star in "Sullivan & Son." "Pilot" TBS Ph: Danny Feld
Valerie Azlynn and Steve Byrne star in "Sullivan & Son."… (Danny Feld, TBS )

For all its Big Steel past, Pittsburgh is a lovely cosmopolitan city with just as many museums, theaters and cultural touchstones — the birthplace of Gertrude Stein! — as serious sports franchises. So it absolutely deserves a better show than TBS' shameless "Cheers" knockoff comedy "Sullivan & Son," which premieres Thursday.

If "Cheers" was the place where everybody knows your name, "Sullivan & Son" is where everybody plays a cliché. When"2 Broke Girls"debuted last fall, it was taken to task by many for the outdated (and more than occasionally racist) nature of its ancillary characters, a motif "S&S" co-creators Steve Byrne and Rob Long (formerly of "Cheers") seem oddly happy to embrace. Dragon lady, cougar and feisty redhead; dutiful son, jealous daughter and henpecked husband are all present and accounted for, with pat and predictable jokes leeching whatever hope might be had from a racially diverse cast and a promising enough setup.

Stand-up comedian Byrne plays Steve Sullivan, a New York corporate attorney whom we meet as he is bringing his ice-puddle (shallow, cold) of a girlfriend home to celebrate his father's 60th birthday at the family bar, Sullivan & Son. She is so busy counting the hours until she can return to Manhattan that she fails to feel the "real-people" love in the room, something that is, quite frankly, difficult for the viewer as well.

Jack Sullivan (Dan Lauria) may be the last of a genial paternal breed, but whatever charm he has is quickly overshadowed by his controlling, Tiger Mom-nature wife Ok Cha (Jodi Long); their insecure daughter, Susan (Vivian Bang); and the predictably "colorful" antics of the regulars. These include geriatric bigot Hank (Brian Doyle-Murray), the wife-avoiding Roy (Roy Wood Jr.), Steve's perpetually dim-witted friend Owen (Owen Benjamin) and Owen's mother, Carol (Christine Ebersole), who is not just a cougar, she's an alcoholic cougar.

Because this is a sitcom, Jack uses his party to announce that he intends to sell the bar, which causes Steve, for reasons clear only to the writers, to renounce his former life and take it over. His girlfriend quickly makes tracks, which conveniently clears a path for Steve to turn his attention to the inevitable "gal who got away," in this case the auburn-tressed Melanie (Valerie Azlynn), now a shot-downing paramedic.

So now the previously straight-arrow and ambitious Steve is back navigating the sticky-thicket of his Irish Korean publican roots — how much fun is that?

Not so much, as it turns out. There is a lot to be said for a modern cross-cultural family comedy, and Irish Korean is certainly rife with possibility. Unfortunately, the characters are drawn so broadly — Ok Cha is cheap, demanding and emotionally withholding (in the pilot she also appears to struggle with English), while the Irish American Jack is warm, wise and mortally afraid of his wife — that if not for the overuse of a few PG-13 words, "Sullivan & Son" could coexist in the same time frame as "Bridget Loves Bernie."

The second episode includes a scene in which the two Mexican regulars attempt to introduce cockfighting to the bar (cue regrettable double-entendre from Miss Carol), and the third has a plot line in which Owen and Ahmed (Ahmed Ahmed) try to hit on the now-gorgeous former fat girl from their high school class.

If these are the real people of Pittsburgh, heaven save us from the fake ones.


'Sullivan & Son'

Where: TBS

When: 10:30 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)



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