Mr. Sunshine Recap: “Employee of the Year”
In the second episode of Mr. Sunshine, it’s the 10th anniversary of Ben’s (Matthew Perry) hire date at the Sunshine Arena, and nobody remembers! Last week, on the pilot, it was his birthday that had him all melancholy and reflective. If this show has to work an under-celebrated milestone into every episode, it’s going to get real stale around here real fast. Fortunately, though, we’re starting to see a rhythm established, and a zippy pace, and we have a potential breakout character in Allison Janney’s Crystal, who already owns this show. If next week’s episode is centered around nobody remembering to buy her a drink on St. Patrick’s Day or whatever, there’d be no cause for complaint.
In this episode, Crystal initiates a contest — whichever Sunshine Arena employee wows her the most will win access to the company golfcart. “I want you to impress me,” she says, “with the same spirit that drove America to beat all those other countries and win the Statue of Liberty.” For some reason, the idea of this prize sends everyone into a tizzy, although I guess if I’m being honest, driving a golfcart in the office every time I needed a coffee would be pretty rad. Ben thinks this is a terrible idea because if everyone is trying to impress Crystal then they won’t be doing their jobs and nothing will get done. It seems like kind of a counter-intuitive prediction, but of course Ben is right and everyone pretty much loses their shit over that golf cart. Some of the random employees’ negligent efforts at winning Crystal over are amusing, none so much as the visual gag of the vendor staff’s “churro cake.”
Meanwhile, Ben is forced to contend with a Bieber-like pop star named Eli Cutler, who is performing at the Sunshine Arena that night. Somehow Eli makes it throughout the entire day without anyone asking for his stance on abortion, but not without revealing himself to be a megalomaniacal freakshow, insulting Ben and ordering him around on some bizarre errands. This pop star is played by a Jonas Brother (I won’t bother to look up which one because it’s sad enough that I knew who it was by sight), and he is surprisingly entertaining in this role. The way he acts as though he were trapped by the need to compulsively be a jerk is just right. When Ben asks whether Eli’s going to slam a door in his face again, Eli pouts, “I wish I didn’t have to.”
Oddly, the side characters from last week were barely in this episode at all. Alice the marketing director who had been sleeping with Ben starts a very sitcom-y rivalry with Alonzo, who she is now sleeping with, over who can win that golf cart. This side plot goes exactly nowhere near a payoff, though, leaving high hopes that some of the marginal characters who work at Sunshine Arena, like Lost’s Jorge Garcia and Soapdish’s Kathy Najimy (hi, Kathy Najimy!) will get bigger roles in the future. Ben’s nutso assistant Heather (Portia Doubleday) fares slightly better this week, training pudgy, cheerful Roman (Nate Torrance) on how to do her job so she can move on. This gives the not-yet-a-couple a plethora of chances to make googly eyes at each other. As their bond deepens, they devise a hare-brained scheme (famously the best kind of scheme) about how Heather might keep her job and not have to move on.
The best gag of the night was a throwaway line from actress Kathy Najimy (love her), whose character is shocked that the new guy, Roman, is the one who ends up winning the golf-cart. “Chaz Bono wins it?” she says with the perfect amount of disbelief. I hadn’t noticed the similarity between Nate Torrance and Chaz Bono before, but now it’s difficult to notice anything else. Although Roman ends up winning, for some reason he and Heather decide that setting the golf cart on fire is the best way to ensure that Heather doesn’t move on to a different job, because of course they do. This way she’ll also be able to keep up the budding romance between herself and Roman, who, it bears repeating ,is very much a large and goofy person.
In the end, Ben solves his threadbare under-appreciation crisis by convincing Jonas Bieber to perform, after the pop star is plagued by self-doubt. This clutch move inspires some huzzahs from Allison Janney’s Crystal, deliciously cut with some insults too. I mentioned last week how her character resembles Arrested Development’s Lucille Bluth a bit — this week she even had a recurring gag about the creepy way she winks at people. This felt like it kind of crossed the line from homage to imitation. With an actress of this magnitude and a writing staff capable of churning out at least some chuckles, there’s plenty of opportunity to give this character her own quirks and let her blossom into something truly memorable. Only two episodes in, the potential for that is quite clear.