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Come on down to Sullivan & Son

sullivan & son poster

Written by : published Monday 23rd July 2012

Sullivan & Son
TBS's newest comedy is Sullivan & Son, which kicked off with two episodes this week. The "Pilot" begins when Steve Sullivan (Steve Byrne) visits his hometown for his father, Jack's (Dan Lauria, The Wonder Years), retirement party. Though Steve is an attorney in the big city, he decides that he can't let his father sell the bar, which is an institution in the neighborhood, to a stranger. So he gives up his career and fiance to move home and take over.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Sullivan & Son. Let's start with the positives. First, there is a ton of charm to this series, oozing out every pore. It's been awhile since a sitcom was really about a community brought together, like this one is. There is family and surrogate family, the bar serving as a gathering place for friends and neighbors.

The acting is also pretty decent. The cast is staffed with a bunch of terrific performers, including Christine Ebersole (Royal Pains), Brian Doyle-Murray (Groundhog Day, The Middle), Jodi Long (Eli Stone), Vivian Bang (Yes Man), Owen Benjamin (Pretend Time), Valerie Azlynn, and comedians Roy Wood Jr. and Ahmed Ahmed. Each has already developed a well defined character, and the group chemistry is absolutely delightful. They are totally believable as a gang of people who just love spending all of their time hanging out together.

The individuals relate to each other well outside of the larger group, too. In the second episode, "The Bribe," Steve butts heads with his Korean mother, Ok Cha (Long). She wants to continue to pay off the health inspector, but now that Steve is running things, he refuses, wanting to go by the book. This results in him getting shut down and, after running an illegal backroom bar, arrested. The scene where Steve and Ok Cha confront each other in jail, neither backing down, but coming to an understanding anyway, is a great picture of an authentic, though not necessarily typical, mother / son relationship.

The stereotypes played upon aren't a bother either. Sure, Ok Cha is stubborn and cheap, which viewers are told is standard for Koreans. However, these adjectives do actually apply to Ok Cha, and no one tries to attribute them to her children (unless they deserve it), so while it may seem couched in a slight bit of racism, it's actually handled just fine.

Now, the negatives. Why is Steve's bar packed before 3 p.m. on a Tuesday? The characters kind of poke fun at this conceit, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it's a silly thing. I mean, perhaps if it was just Steve's friends at the bar, it might be excusable. But wider shots reveal plenty of other patrons. This does not make sense.

Also, while the characters in Sullivan & Son are said to do nothing but drink all the time, none of them are too pathetic. No one looks unwashed or smelly or in need of counselling. Even Owen (Benjamin), who is unemployed, seems to be doing just fine. Carol (Ebersole), the bar floozy, isn't ravaged by disease of a hard life style. It just doesn't hold up at all that these are the types of people that spend all day, every day consuming copious amounts of alcohol.

Then, some of the humor is ridiculous. Owen suddenly gets smart just by giving up alcohol for a few days, though he really has no motivation to do so, since everyone else continues to drink. Susan (Bang) gets a gun to hit her mother with. Someone needing a tow waits by their car all week. These occurrences aren't that funny to begin with, and pull the viewer out of the fantasy world the show presents.

Overall, Sullivan & Son has heart, but the concept could use some work, and the humor is uneven. A few tweaks and this could be a really fine show. Tipping the other way could ruin it. I'll watch for now and see which, if either, happens.

Sullivan & Son airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on TBS.

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Watch Episode 1 - Last, Best, and Final online

About the author JeromeWetzelTV

JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome Wetzel is a huge fan of stories, in both books and television. He writes TV reviews and fiction. He currently posts articles for TheTVKing, Seat42F, and BlogCritics, as well as his own personal blog, as well as writing fiction. His website is www.jeromewetzel.com Follow him on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV

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