I’d love to say that “Sullivan & Son” is a post-modern creation that borrows from a number of classic sitcoms to form a unique, newfangled something. The TBS comedy, from executive producer Vince Vaughn among others, knits together large swatches of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “All in the Family,” and, most especially, “Cheers,” since it’s set in a bar where everybody knows everybody else’s name, as well as their favorite drink and their sexual proclivities. Then I could say that the show, which premieres with back-to-back episodes tonight at 10, is a witty comment on the age of YouTube mash-ups and an homage to TV’s past. And then I could feel a little clever.
But all I can say about “Sullivan & Son” is that it’s a contrived sitcom with nothing original or new to offer. It’s one of those half-hours manufactured from used material that has no reason to exist except as a vehicle for easy, predictable one-liners and hackneyed characters. The unambitious writers, including the show’s star, Steve Byrne, don’t try to reinvent their familiar ingredients. They just add a dollop of lard to a bunch of old beans and refry them to within an inch of their little oval lives.
The setup has Byrne’s Steve Sullivan as a corporate New York lawyer who moves back to Pittsburgh to take over his parent’s blue-collar pub. In the process, he loses his snooty urban girlfriend and gets back in touch with his roots and his family, including his envious sister, Susan (Vivian Bang), his Korean-born mother Ok Cha (Jodi Long), and his Irish-American dad, Jack (Dan Lauria). Don’t worry about Steve’s romantic life, there’s a former sweetheart hanging around, Melanie (Valerie Azlynn), with whom he is bound to be flirting with and frustrated by for the duration of the series. They’ll be on again, then off again, then on again,.
The other regulars at the bar are stupid, offensive, obsessed with sex, or always drunk, but we gotta love ‘em, right? Right? Hank (Brian Doyle-Murray) is The Offensive One, the Archie Bunker of the gang. Everything he says is politically incorrect. No really, every single thing he says is politically incorrect. He’s not correct, when it comes to being political. Reminiscing about the old days, Hank says, “Then the Italians moved in and we all thought, uh-oh, there goes the neighborhood, but Jack said, ‘Hank, simmer down, technically Italians are white people too.’ . . . Then the coloreds moved in.”
Carol (Christine Ebersole) is The Slutty Drunk. Everything she says reminds us that she’s loose and juiced. Recalling her pregnancy by a man she can’t remember, she says, “For nine months I did not touch a drop of liquid. I mean, thank god for weed, right?” Everything sister Susan says is about how everybody loves Steve more than her, and everything Steve’s thick best friend Owen (Owen Benjamin) says is dumb and dumber.
The character types and their jokes are hammered home over and over again. Byrne is a likable presence, and so is Benjamin; but I wish they were friends in a show with a little more dimension. This sitcom about a guy who passed the bar, then bought and started working at a bar, definitely does not raise the bar.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Matthew