TBS’ guy-oriented comedy strategy isn’t hard to fathom, and a lot of its original sitcoms look designed to dovetail with the network’s reruns. Still, even that disclaimer hardly compensates for the stale concoction dubbed “Sullivan & Son,” about a bar where everybody knows your name, as if the gang from “Cheers” sustained a head injury. Created by star/comic Steve Byrne and “Cheers” alum Rob Long, the show’s stock assortment of characters does save time by telegraphing practically every joke. After viewing three episodes, last call couldn’t come soon enough.
Byrne plays Steve, an attorney at a New York investment-banking firm who comes home for the 60th birthday of his dad Jack (Dan Lauria, a long way qualitatively from “The Wonder Years”), who owns the neighborhood watering hole. Only Jack and his wife Ok Cha (Jodi Long) — who he met while stationed in Korea, and who fulfills any number of stereotypes — have decided to sell the place, so guess who chucks Manhattan for these not-so-green acres in working-class Pittsburgh?
Coming home reunites Steve with an old gang of contemporaries — including his longtime crush Melanie (Valerie Azlynn) — as well as colorful bar denizens like the trampy cougar (Christine Ebersole) and racist old barfly (Brian Doyle-Murray). It also allows the writers to recycle a lot of gags and sitcom scenarios like (in episode two) bribing the health inspector or reuniting old patrons.
“Sullivan” counts Vince Vaughn among its exec producers, but behind-the-scenes star power doesn’t provide much of a come-on for a show that almost plays like a spoof of laughtrack-sweetened ’80s sitcoms (really, Korean War jokes?), squandering a lot of veteran talent in the process.
Byrne’s routine draws in part upon growing up half-Irish and half-Asian in Pittsburgh, so there’s an obvious autobiographical element. Yet whatever his merits as a standup, the broad tone overwhelms whatever interest his upbringing might provide, and as an actor, he’s presently limited to two expressions: feigned surprise and cuddly “Oh you scamp” admiration.
Granted, some of these throwback-style shows can work sparingly, but the comedy here feels so tepid and predictable as to virtually cap the upside.
Not everything has to be scintillating and edgy, of course, but “Sullivan & Son” can’t even decide on being playfully retro or politically incorrect enough to push boundaries. As such, it winds up in sitcom no-man’s land — its own comedic version of a demilitarized zone.