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 V.21 No.29 | July 19 - 25, 2012 
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Idiot Box

Mixed Drinks

“Sullivan & Son” on TBS

Television has a long history of hanging out in neighborhood bars. Those watering holes have ranged from the cheerful (“Cheers”) to the skeevy (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). TBS’ newest workplace sitcom, “Sullivan & Son,” plops us down somewhere in the middle.

The show is a custom-built vehicle for creator/writer/star Steve Byrne. It’s a good thing the guy was available, because I don’t think there are a wealth of Irish-Korean stand-up comics who could take his place in the lead role. Byrne plays Steve Sullivan, a Wall Street lawyer who returns to his old Pittsburgh stomping grounds for his father’s 60th birthday. Army vet Dad (Dan Lauria, who used to father it up on “The Wonder Years”) and war bride mom (Jodi Long, who’s played a judge on four TV series) run a salt-of-the-earth kind of bar in a working-class neighborhood. It’s the sort of place where old friends hang out, get drunk, avoid their spouses and lob casually racist punch lines at one another.

Despite the protestations of his snobby New York girlfriend, Steve decides to chuck his fast-paced Manhattan lifestyle and buy the bar out from under his overworked parents. All of his old pals are in regular trouble with the police anyway, so they could use a little friendly legal advice along with their beers. It’s as good an excuse as any to get the sitcom ball rolling.

Byrne seems like a nice enough guy. His low-key personality doesn’t exactly leap off the screen, but he’s not annoying or anything. Most of the show’s humor derives from his Dragon Mom-ish mother kvetching about his lifestyle choices and the fact that he’s squandered his education by taking over his pop’s position as neighborhood suds jockey.

The rest of the cast is the usual collection of idiots, drunks, sluts and broad-as-a-barn-door stereotypes. The background details are surprisingly good, however. (Steve’s childhood bedroom, packed with Pittsburgh Penguins memorabilia and Justice League toys feels quite real.) This could be a clue that “Sullivan & Son” has been given some solid ground upon which to expand. It took “Cheers” a season or two for the characters to catch fire, and “Sullivan & Son” could just be a slow starter.

There’s something at least offbeat about the Irish/Korean culture clash portrayed here. In the first couple episodes, that doesn’t amount to much more than a couple of faintly politically incorrect jokes that don’t feel all that ethnically specific. (Irish people ... drink? Koreans ... want their kids to succeed?) Still, there’s room for growth. Occasionally, we get a good line (as when Steve’s GF complains she wants to be among “people who eat Ethiopian food ... but aren’t Ethiopian”). The cast is also spiked with some comedy ringers (including Christine Ebersol and Bryan Doyle-Murray, who did Weekend Update together on “Saturday Night Live” during the 1981-82 season). For now, “Sullivan & Son” offers your basic, Monday-night-CBS-style chuckles. Get a few more drinks down its gullet, though, and it might loosen up enough to serve us some real comedy.

“Sullivan & Son” premieres Thursday, July 19, at 8 p.m. on TBS.

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