Sitcom Review Briefs: 'Perfect Harmony,' 'Mixed-Ish,' 'The Unicorn,' and 'Sunnyside'
Here’s a brief rundown of the new fall sitcoms I’ve seen this week:
Perfect Harmony (Thursdays, NBC): The premise of Perfect Harmony is not great. It’s about a drunken, abusive Princeton music professor, grieving the loss of his wife, who takes over as the teacher for a struggling small-town church choir. In execution, however, it’s basically Dr. Cox, The Musical, and I inexplicably kind of love it, or at least, I love Bradley Whitford’s weirdly sexy, white-haired asshole of a music professor. I’ll even admit to getting some guilty enjoyment of out of the rousing gospel version of “Eye of the Tiger” that capped the pilot episode. Whitford is outstanding, and Anna Camp is also pretty good as a dippy, Southern version of her Pitch Perfect character. It’s hard to tell with the rest of the cast of Southern yokel church choir members. They could end up dragging the sitcom down, or they could end up being scene-stealers like the Southern yokels in the canceled-too-soon Trial & Error. The pilot is fun, but I don’t know how long it can sustain its premise. Whatever happens, I hope that Bradley Whitford’s character remains a grumpy asshole for the duration of the series.
Mixed-ish (Tuesdays, ABC): Black-ish is one of my favorite sitcoms — it’s still great six seasons in — and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is one of my favorite characters, so I had a lot of hope for the prequel spin-off focused on Rainbow’s upbringing as a mixed-race child of hippies forced out of their commune and into a house paid for by Rainbow’s conservative grandfather. Gary Cole — who plays the Reagan-loving, cocaine-snorting, wealth-obsessed personal-injury attorney grandfather — is easily the best thing about Mixed-ish. I also like Tika Sumpter, who plays Rainbow’s mom, Alicia Johnson, who decides to take a job in her father-in-law’s law firm. I like Mark-Paul Gosselaar a lot, too, but he’s not particularly well cast here as the hippie Dad of Rainbow (Anders Holm, who was originally in the role, was a much better choice). There was a lot to set up in the pilot, and maybe it relaxes into a better sitcom in future weeks, but the premiere was mostly bland, outside of Gary Cole’s scene-stealing role. Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s scenes were also reshot, so maybe he just hasn’t developed any chemistry with the rest of the cast yet. I trust that the talent behind the series created by Kenya Barris, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Peter Saji will work out the kinks, but it’s definitely in the wait-and-see category.
Sunnyside (NBC, Thursdays): Sunnyside was the bad egg of the bunch, which is too bad, because I really like Kal Penn, who plays a charming but otherwise apathetic city councilor bounced out of his position after a drunken incident with the police went viral. His character, Garrett Modi, decides to make a political comeback by helping a group of strangers pass their citizenship test. I think that Sunnyside wants to be a multi-cultural Community, but the pilot falls completely flat. Community worked because Joel McHale was surrounded by an amazing cast, and while Kal Penn plays a similar stock douchebag character, the supporting characters are not great and are poorly written. I’ll give it another episode or two to see if it can figure itself out — mostly because of Kal Penn and Kiran Deol, who plays his sister — but so far, Sunnyside is painfully conservative, which is a shame. A sitcom about a politician helping immigrants pass a citizenship test has a lot of potential for cutting social commentary in this political climate, but there’s no evidence yet that Sunnyside plans to tap into that potential.
The Unicorn (Thursdays, CBS) — I loved The Unicorn. The premise — like the one for Perfect Harmony — is terrible, but again, the premise hardly matters when you’ve got Walton Goggins as your lead, and in a role like nothing he’s ever played. Goggins plays Wade Felton, a widower with two (adorable) daughters re-entering the dating scene a year after his wife’s passing. Apparently, being a widower makes Wade a unicorn, the “elusive man” every woman is looking for because he’s not going through a mid-life crisis or a divorce, and because he’s a devoted father and loving husband who hasn’t had sex with anyone else in 20 years. Not a great premise, but Goggins makes it work as a twinkly-eyed, soulful nice-guy Dad. He’s also surrounded by a phenomenal supporting cast, including Michaela Watkins, Rob Corddry, Omar Benson Miller, and Maya Lynne Robinson. It’s funny, but it’s also warm without being overly sentimental. It feels wrong to be watching a sitcom on CBS, but I am all in on The Unicorn.
Header Image Source: CBS