Rehab Inspired Matthew Perry’s New Show “Mr. Sunshine”

By Fred Topel Friends’s Matthew Perry has a new show this fall. In Mr. Sunshine he plays the manager of the Sunshine arena in San Diego. Hilarity ensues when he can’t melt the ice, circus animals run around the stadium, his ex re-breaks up with him and that’s only the first episode.

“I was interested in possibly doing a comedy again and I really was interested in writing that,” Perry told the Television Critics Association at their fall press tour. “On the process of trying to find partners to do that with, I read a ton of scripts whenever that was, a year ago. The best one I’d come across was the one these two guys [Alex Barnow and Mark Firek] wrote. I thought to myself, ‘Should I just do that show?’ The only problem with that show was that I had not written it.”

So Perry wrote and developed Mr. Sunshine for himself. “I like to say this character is me five years ago, before any possible enlightenment could have come into my life,” Perry said. “Actually, the reason my character is selfish and has only thought about himself is because I know somebody who that was the case for, for a long time. To take a comedic look at that I thought was interesting. I’m very in touch with that kind of drive, a selfish guy trying to have a better life and how confused a selfish person would get if he were told the way to have a better life is just to be nicer to people and care about people. That kind of person is confused when the answer is: be really nice to Nate [Torrence’s character] and you’ll be happier. That’s a character I thought would be fun to explore in a sea of dysfunctional people and a fun arena in which to take place.”

Still trading on sarcastic one-liners, Perry says he’s much nicer now in real life. His profound life changes were chronicled by the media in his struggle with drugs and alcohol. “I would say if you want to find out the answer to that, just pick up any newspaper from 1996. Look at any magazine cover. They say write what you know so that’s an interesting road for someone to go on, from changing terrible behavior to being a better guy. I knew if I wrote something I’d like that to be a component of it.”

The sports arena setting is also personal to Perry. “As a kid I was thrilled to go to any of those places. When I was a kid it was the Forum. I love going to baseball games, I love going to events. It’s sort of the memory of how excited I was being a kid going to these places. I love them. It’s a fun place to go. A lot of fun things happen. I had this sense of excitement and the people who work there must feel that too. What drove us to want to do a show at this place, if you have a dysfunctional family working such a huge venue, if we have cameras on how crazy some of these people are but they have to get it together every night because 18,000 people are showing up.”

They’ve already got ideas for subsequent episodes that will top the circus antics of the premiere. “We were just trying to think of a place where the most interesting insane things could come in. The first few we’re talking about are a Bruce Springsteen concert and the next day there’s a lingerie football game. That’s an episode I’m looking forward to because they’re women, they’re in lingerie and they’re playing football. Which gives new meaning to the term ‘illegal use of the hands.’ I worked on that all the way here.”

The rotating events of the arena will create great roles for guest stars. Perry has many high profile costars he could tap for an appearance, from the Friends to his Fools Rush In costar.

“Maybe we’ll ask Salma Hayek to be the quarterback,” he joked. “That’s mostly just for you and me, dude.”

Seriously, Mr. Sunshine doesn’t want to rely on stunt casting. “Yeah, people ask a lot about guest stars. We’re sort of a little bit earlier in the process than that. We’re breaking stories and coming up with who these characters are going to be. There’s a lot of talk about will I ask some of my former cast mates to be on the show. I think ultimately yes but in the beginning we really want to convey to people that this is something new. In the third season when we’re all excited, maybe some of them can come back but I don’t want to use them as a launching pad. I want to show these new people and what they’re like.”

People will always remember Perry as Chandler Bing. He’s tried to shake that in some more dramatic roles, but now he’s at peace with it. “It’s an interesting dilemma. It’s basically you want to do a lot of some of the old stuff because that was me too and you want to just expand on it somehow. I don’t think people want to see people that are night and day different from Chandler but you want to do some different things. You want to take advantage of what worked before but try something new.”

Mr. Sunshine is coming to ABC in January.

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